ColumnistsVogue Williams

Parents need to protect kids from online dangers

Vogue and Alicia
Vogue and Alicia

I spent last week travelling between L.A., Seattle and Chicago shooting my new RTE documentary series, Vogue Williams – On The Edge.

Filming each one of the four episodes has opened my eyes to so much.

One episode dives into the dangers of social media. I really thought I was wise to the issues, but it turns out I’m totally naive.

I get trolled online quite a bit and I’ve been sent some sick pictures from anonymous people who can’t seem to keep their pants on. But that’s what ‘instant delete’ is there for.

People tweeting me horrible things is part and parcel of what I do. But should I really be that blasé about it?

I don’t think anyone has the right to anonymously abuse people they don’t know, yet it happens on a daily basis.

There’s no denying that some of the comments get to me. They pick on physical flaws in particular. Flaws that I’m only too aware of myself.

These flaws get amplified as soon as someone with no association to you points them out. This is my own ‘darknet’ experience – hurtful, though not especially dangerous.

However, I’ve been meeting people whose online lives have spun into real-life nightmares. I previously wrote about the problem of revenge porn and so-called ‘slut shaming’ via social media channels.

I also wrote about the time I spent with the paedophile hunters and the dangers young children face online.

It’s impossible to stop children having an online life, but it’s their beautiful innocence that puts them in danger.

They all want to rack up mega amounts of friends so they’ll add anyone who sends a friend request. And that’s where the danger starts.

Last week, in Chicago, I met Alicia Kozakiewicz to talk about what happened to her as a 13-year-old girl. She’s 28 now, but still bears the scars of the four days she was held captive in the home of a paedophile who groomed her over months online.

Like all of her friends, Alicia used chat rooms, mainly to talk to her own classmates outside of school, but then she started chatting to what she thought was another 13-year-old boy, who made her feel special.

She chatted to him every day for eight months until she finally decided to meet him.

It’s a decision that almost cost Alicia her life. The ‘boy’ she’d been chatting to was a 38-year-old man who dragged her into his car and drove her five hours to his home in Virginia.

She spent the next four days chained by the neck. She was raped, beaten and tortured, most of this being broadcast to other paedophiles on the internet.

It was one of those paedophiles who recognised Alicia from her missing poster and called the police from a payphone so as not to be traced. This was how she was eventually found.

There are hundreds of stories just like Alicia’s happening every day all over the world.

The internet is a dangerous place and I don’t think parents realise how bad it can really be. I think that any child with access to the internet should be under strict watch and all passwords should be accessible to their parents.

It’s impossible to watch your child at every moment, but I think it’s so important to make sure that they’re safe on the internet because it has become a terrifying place.

Checks now on emails

I have read some articles lately about how continuing to answer work emails outside of office hours is leading to problems in the family home.

It totally makes sense, as regardless of what job you do, a 9 to 5 is no longer the norm. I always have my phone in my hand and I am on call for any thing  until 11pm at night.

We live in a digital world and it’s almost impossible to switch off completely, but it’s not healthy.

I love the idea France had. President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that gives employees a “right to disconnect”.

It means that companies with 50 employees and over will have to regulate when their employees can send emails outside of office hours.

I think that this will definitely help with  stress.

Swiss smart on drugs

I spent a couple of days in Zurich this weekend to film the last part of my new TV show. We went to Love Parade, which is a big festival they have.

The big difference with this festival is there’s a place to get your drugs tested, to ensure that they are safe for you to take.

Obviously it would be better if nobody took drugs at all, but that’s not going to happen so at least this way everyone can be safe. 

The festival itself was great fun and certainly not everyone was on drugs.

I wore a playsuit from Spotted on Celeb with my H&M bomber jacket, which I definitely didn’t need as it was so hot in Zurich!