9-year-olds added to harmful WhatsApp groups

“If anyone in Malta encounters a situation, they should immediately report it to the police.”

Children as young as nine who are living in the UK have been added to malicious WhatsApp groups promoting self-harm, sexual violence, and racism, a BBC investigation has found.

Thousands of parents with children at schools across Tyneside have been sent a warning issued by Northumbria Police. One parent said her 12-year-old daughter had viewed sexual images, racism, and swearing that “no child should be seeing”.

It comes after the minimum age for WhatsApp users in the UK and Europe was reduced from 16 to 13. In response to rising concerns, WhatsApp owner Meta said all users had “options to control who can add them to groups” and the ability to block and report unknown numbers.

The Journal brought this article to the attention of the Maltese Police’s Cybercrime Unit, that was not only very responsive but also very cautious so as not to unecessarily alarm parents. Their approach reflects their commitment to ensure a balanced understanding of the risks associated with digital interactions while promoting safe online practices.

No cases reported locally

“Although similar cases have not been reported in Malta, various organisations, including the Police, are actively collaborating to share information on this and other technology-related topics with both minors and parents. If anyone in Malta encounters a situation, they should immediately report it to the police,” said the Cybercrime Unit.

“Like any other digital platform, it is crucial for adults to monitor and control the online activities of minors. There are several software options available that allow parents to oversee their children’s participation in groups like WhatsApp. It is recommended that younger children only access these platforms under parental supervision and that their overall screen time be limited. Additionally, it is advised that young children not be left alone to play online games, especially late at night.

While there are no specific guidelines, the Cybercrime Unit regularly holds informational meetings in schools and youth centres. These sessions are designed to enhance understanding of online safety and highlight the precautions minors should take while navigating the digital world.”

Established in 2003, the Cybercrime Unit is a specialised division within the Malta Police Force. Its main function is to offer technical support in detecting and investigating crimes where computers are either the targets or the tools used. Beyond dealing with typical technology-related offenses like hacking, the Cybercrime Unit also plays a crucial role in probing more conventional crimes such as fraud, threats, and other serious offences.

Click here if you need to contact them.

Photo: Jessica Lewis 🦋 thepaintedsquare

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