COVID-19: How the Coronavirus Outbreak is Heightening Online Risks

Whilst the world continues to confront the obvious health problems that COVID-19 brings, another battle is playing out online.

Social isolation, social distancing… just a lack of physical social contact means that we are all looking for other ways to keep ourselves entertained, informed and in-touch with the world.

The internet has never been more important. Technology has never been in such demand. And the importance of a strong Wi-Fi connection has never been more valued.

Opportunities are endless. Children can video call, chat to friends, play online games, learn new skills or just follow the latest updates during what is an unprecedented time.

But with increased online opportunities inevitably come increased online risks.

Child Sexual Exploitation

It seems difficult to believe that some people are looking to exploit the coronavirus epidemic in order to cause harm to others. But that is exactly what The National Crime Agency (NCA) have warned, revealing that “offenders are already discussing opportunities over online chat forums to abuse children during the Covid-19 crisis.”

Despite the number of reports around child safety concerns remaining relatively stable thus far, Rob Jones, the NCA director of threat leadership, said: “Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children.”

CSE activity can happen at any time and through any form of online channel which allows for two-way communication – social media, online games, live streaming apps. Offenders often pose as young children and use persuasive language to help rapidly build trust with their victims.

Knowing the signs and helping to educate children around the dangers of online grooming is key to staying safe. You can download our online grooming guide here.

Fake News

The race to keep up with the latest information and updates around coronavirus has meant that many of us have been susceptible to believing fake news or even helping the spread of misinformation.

Whether it’s what started the outbreak, how you can prevent it or when ‘lockdown’ is going to end, everyday seems to spawn a new piece of fake news around COVID-19. This is then shared on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp and spreads like wildfire.

The risks of fake news aren’t always immediately obvious. However, in a time when we need to place our trust in others, fake news can contribute towards undermining official guidance, eroding public confidence and lulling us into a false sense of security.

Spotting fake news isn’t always easy but there are some precautions that can be taken. It’s important to always question what you read and think before you share anything. Investigating the source of the information and seeking corroboration can also help.

You can download our fake news guide here.

The rise of ‘live streaming’

Zoom, Houseparty, Facebook Live… Social distancing has meant that more of us have been turning to technology to stay in touch. Zoom and Houseparty have both enjoyed periods at number 1 spot in app download stores after seeing relatively modest user numbers before the coronavirus outbreak.

The risks of live streaming are well documented. Live content pretty much means unmoderated content so there is always the risk of children being exposed to inappropriate images or video, especially if they are speaking to people they don’t know very well.

Risks around privacy and security should also be taken seriously, particularly if viewers can see inside your home. And with the ability to record live sessions on some platforms, children should always be aware of their conduct and behaviour to ensure they don’t become the victim of cyber bullying or engage in anything they will later come to regret.

You can download our guides to Zoom, Houseparty and live streaming here.

How our NOS Certified School Programme safeguards children online

Keeping on top of the latest online harms and risks is not easy. And finding the right information, in the right tone of voice, in the right format to engage children in online safety can be harder than it looks.

That’s why our award-winning Certified School Programme provides the perfect solution to help keep children safe online, at a time when schools and parents need it the most.

With a suite of educational resources including our highly engaging and interactive online safety courses, lesson plans and parent guides, we help schools to implement a whole school approach to online safety, from top to bottom.

With monthly webinars on key topics and weekly news summaries, we’ll make sure you stay informed and receive expert knowledge to help you keep on top of the latest online dangers. It’s all part of the world's most comprehensive online safety hub.

To find out more and start your journey towards achieving the most effective approach to online safety, click here.

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