Online safety push for five-year-olds
|CEOP cartoon warns young children|
Children as young as five are being targeted in a new online safety campaign backed by the government.
The campaign uses cartoons to show five to seven-year-olds that people are not always what they seem.
It is thought 80% of children in this age group use the web and one-in-five parents of this age group worry about who their children contact online.
Experts say that by raising awareness of web risks at an early age, children will be better protected.
The campaign run by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety - a coalition of industry, charity and government groups - is launched as part of EU Internet Safety Day.
One of the organisations in the safety campaign - the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) - is one of the many which have been behind campaigns designed to help children and teenagers to keep themselves safe from online predators.
The organisation believes that by raising awareness of online risks at an early age, children will be better protected as they grow up.
When it was set up nearly four years ago, it began by running campaigns in secondary schools for teenagers and has gradually targeted younger and younger groups.
Head of Ceop, Jim Gamble, said: "Unfortunately, some of the victims we see here are very young.
"People will try to find out where they are, where they go to school. Children can expose themselves to unnecessary risk.
"We do see children who are younger and younger being exposed to risk - and the risk is not always clear. There are a number of subtle messages.
"Unbelievably some of these children have access to webcams, but that's the world we live in."
Ceop says every week, among the 500 cases being reported through its "Report abuse" button found on some websites, there will be four from children at immediate risk of harm.
Anecdotal evidence suggests very young children are getting onto social networking sites aimed at teenagers and adults - where they are very vulnerable to online predators.
Jo Bryce, from the Cyber Research Centre at the University of Central Lancashire, said: "I have been into schools to give talks on e-safety and teachers have told me that six and seven-olds there are on social networking sites."
Among publicised cases of abuse of children who have been targeted individually online, however, she says, the victims have tended to be older - aged 10 and up.
Young teenage girls were most at risk.
Dr Bryce said educating children at a young age was the best approach to take.
"The focus on e-safety education for children aged five-plus is absolutely the right thing to do. Then you can build up the information over time so they can keep themselves safe," she said.
One teenager has spoken to BBC News about how she was targeted online by a paedophile when she was 12.
He began messaging her after being introduced as a "friend of a friend".
Woman reveals online grooming ordeal
Once he had won her trust, he asked her to pose in front of the family webcam and took images of her.
The man has since been tracked down and jailed for seven years. Ceop says he had targeted 30 other children.
Still clearly traumatised by what happened, the girl, who is now 17, had this advice for other young people: "When I was doing it, I didn't feel wrong. I didn't have the little feeling in my stomach. I'd just tell people 'be careful who you talk to'.
"Don't try and make friends over the internet because you never know who they really are."
She said such people would try to win you over in whichever way they could.
"They're not going to be horrible. They're not going to force you to do things. They are going to want you to stay on their good side.
"They are going to be nice to you, they're going to be really nice. You are going to think they are the nicest people in the world and deep down inside they're just horrible."
Child psychologist David Coleman says the cartoon being used by Ceop in its education programme will introduce young children to ideas which will enable them to explore online environments safely.
"Understanding what constitutes 'private' information - and recognising that people can pretend to be different online - are critical to developing safe behaviour online, which greatly reduces their vulnerability to abuse," he said.
Research from Ofcom published last autumn suggested that 80% of five to seven-year-olds use the internet and that among nine to 11-year olds, 94% do so.
At home, more than two-thirds (67%) of five to seven-year-olds were using the internet in 2009 - up from 57% in 2008.
More than a quarter of parents were concerned about the content of the website that their five to seven-year-olds visited.
A special Newsround programme about how children can stay safe on the internet is on BBC1 at 4.45pm on Tuesday 9 February.