A police boss has warned parents their children could be at risk of being groomed by paedophiles or being bombarded with sexually explicit messages on popular a social media app.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones spoke out after being briefed about the problem during a visit to the DangerPoint children’s safety centre for which he has provided funding.
One of their concerns is the free-to-use app called Musical.ly which boasts more than 150 million global so-called “musers”, 2.5 million of them in the UK.
The app allows those who sign up to create lip sync videos and post the footage online.
Viewers can post real-time comments and can even be “guested” into live chats.
Safety experts at DangerPoint are worried it’s easy for under-age children to join by saying they are 13 years old or over.
The centre in Talacre was set up through a public and private partnership 12 years ago.
Visiting children and young people encounter a range of different scenarios involving dangerous or difficult situations.
Among them are a dark alley, a bus, a train carriage, a beach, a building site, a shop, a farm yard and one of the most dangerous places of all – the home!
There are interactive films and even a driving simulator that’s up to the standard of the best computer games in terms of software and graphics.
The centre recently won a grant of £5,000 from the Your Community, Your Choice initiative.
It was paid out of cash confiscated from the area’s crooks which is distributed by Mr Jones, North Wales Police and North Wales Police and PACT (the Police and Community Trust.
The commissioner said: “The work done by DangerPoint is invaluable because it allows schools and other organisations to bring children here to learn, not just about internet safety, but safety in the home, outside, and all sorts of personal safety.
“If it saves only a few children from being harmed in whatever way then I think it has been efficient and effective way of getting the message across.
“There is nothing more important than keeping children safe and I’m happy to be able to fund schools to come here.
“We’re seeing that children at a very young age do use social media and that is a worry and I think we need to do what we can to get the message through to parents and grandparents that they need to be aware of what their children of whatever age are doing online.
“One app that has been flagged up today is Musical.ly and there are concerns about people sharing footage of children singing and dancing online and putting themselves at risk.
“There is an important message here, not just for children, but for parents and grandparents as well.
“I think the children in many instances have got a better understanding of cyber safety than their parents, and especially the grandparents.
“I think the lesson is, when you buy a tablet or a smartphone for your child, not only do you need to put the security settings on the phone itself, but you also need to put them on all of the apps that they use as well, and to make sure that they don’t join social media until they are 13 years of age.”
It was a message echoed by DangerPoint manager Julie Evans who revealed 80,000 children and young people have visited the centre since it opened 12 years ago.
She said:” When we first opened children weren’t on social media to the same degree so we have now created our own interactive character Chaos, who can keep up with all of the latest trends that the children are using on social media and on the internet.
“Musical.ly is an app that a lot of the children are using where they’re uploading photos of themselves singing and dancing.
“They like sharing them between their friends, but also people that they don’t know can talk to them via the app so they could potentially be groomed online.
“It’s a real concern for us because a lot of the children say that they are using the app when they’re not even old enough to use it. You should be 13 so they’re obviously telling fibs about their age to get on there.”