Ann Coffey


Stockport Express column, January 2018

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As we begin 2018, I have been thinking about all the children who were born in the year 2000 and now coming up to age 18 –  and what their lives will be like in the future.

These young people, the millennium generation, have grown up in the exciting and challenging internet age. Social media has become their main source of news and their primary way of communicating – often capturing every moment of their lives on their phones, in tweets and snapchats for all the world to see.

We have always needed to have the skills to understand and assess information, but the growth of social media and the ability to reach millions of people in a second has made it more important than ever that children and young people know what is a fact and what is not. Helping children to understand and challenge information on social media and keep themselves safe online is crucially important if they are to grow up being able to use the internet in a positive way. There are also an increasing number of older adults using social media platforms like Facebook.

It is estimated that £7 million adults use online dating sites.

How can you tell whether a person who contacts you on social media or a dating website is actually who they say they are?

A constituent recently contacted me. He had his identity stolen by a man who used his photos to lure and deceive women on dating websites for several years. This is called catfishing. Using his image, the fraudster created over 40 fake profiles.  Many women seeking partners online were cruelly deceived into sharing images of themselves or parting with money.

Catfishing is not a crime. I spoke about this in Parliament. The government is consulting on a new Internet Safety Strategy and I would like to see a new law, making it illegal to create a false identity on the internet.

The world has been changed so much by social media, but governments can only do so much to protect us.  It is time for the internet giants to take more responsibility for verifying the identity of people who use their sites. They are making billions, and can well afford to invest in a safer internet for us all.