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Germany

Dangers that lurk on the Internet

Suicide pacts, dates to hunt down homosexuals or to torture homeless people: For children and teenagers, danger lurks not in the streets, but on the Internet, a German child welfare organization says.

The Internet plays a huge role in most children's lives - also here in Germany. Young people these days are increasingly online with their smart phones, and often enough, they end up on websites that weren't necessarily designed for them.

The German youth protection website "jugendschutz.net" has documented what youngsters are likely to come across on the Internet.

The organization, which is linked to the Commission for Youth Media Protection (KJM), monitors the Internet for content harmful to minors. "Jugendschutz.net" gives parents and teachers guidance; for instance, in a newly updated booklet entitled "A net for children – Surfing without risk", commissioned by the Family Ministry in Berlin (BMFSFJ). The organization's 2014 annual report takes a close look at mobile communication, and points out the most problematic issues:

1. Risk of self-inflicted harm. Always on the lookout for cool things to do, even elementary schoolchildren get together to collectively swallow a mix of baking-powder and vinegar - trivialized as a dare, it's a lethal, explosive cocktail in the children's stomachs. Glamorizing anorexia is another fad, even to the point of virtual hunger Olympics: Who weighs even less?

2. Announcing suicide. In 13 cases, life-threatening situations forced "jugendschutz.net" to call the police. Sometimes, people seek partners for a suicide pact via the Internet; the young people also discuss procedure: whether it's better to jump from a tall building or in front of a train.

3. Sexual posturing. Photos and videos of teenagers in sexualized poses are particularly frequent. Such content is almost always generated through foreign servers, mainly Dutch, US and Russian. Often these pages can be deleted, but usually only after five days.

4. Sexualized violence via download. In 2014 alone, "jugendschutz.net" took action 1,168 times against cases of portrayals of sexual abuse in the net - significantly more than the previous year.

5. The lure of jihad. Political extremism also has a toehold on the Internet, and has long since discovered children as a target audience. Islamist videos do a brisk business: they use music and quick cuts, which comes across as professional and caters to what adolescents are used to seeing. In "Flames of War", the jihad is portrayed as an adventure for teenagers - this film and others are widely distributed via YouTube and Facebook.

6. Hunting down "the other". Videos that show violent attacks on gay or homeless people, or drug addicts, can easily get more than 100,000 clicks. Some show systematic torture. Clips by the neo-Nazi Okkupay-Pedofilyay movement, founded in Russia, are particularly notorious. The videos are circulated at a furious pace on Facebook, YouTube and via the Russian VK network.

7. Rightwing Muslim-bashing. Social media are a key platform for the far right, where they ridicule mainly Muslims, and where they liken them to athlete's foot and trash. The bashing follows a pattern: the more provocative the insult, the more clicks it gets. It's a snowball effect.

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