Watchdog warns, of risks

Children using hugely popular social networking Web sites such as and face bullying, unsuitable advertising and pornography, a report by a UK consumer watchdog magazine, quoted in a Reuters report, said.

"Children are spending hours every week on networking sites, building up their profiles and chatting with friends. However, what might seem like innocent fun has a darker, more sinister side," Jessica Ross, editor of Computing Which‾ Magazine, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Networking Web sites have taken the Internet by storm in recent years, allowing users to create their own Web pages, play games, exchange photos and video, and listen to new music.

MySpace boasted of a global community of nearly 80 million users, while Bebo said it had visits from two million British and Irish users in April alone, with over half aged between 13 and 18, the Reuters report said.

The Which‾ report said the freedom afforded to users on the sites meant they risked being abused by people claiming to be younger and also provided a "ripe environment for 'cyber bullying.'"

They cited one teenage boy's Web page, which asked his friends to vote on whether a girl they knew had AIDS and within minutes had also discovered links to pornographic sites.

Bebo CEO Michael Birch told Computing Which‾ that only a small minority of his site's users had encountered harassment, and the magazine said none of the teenagers it had spoken to had suffered any abuse.