Social networks have given us a new way to stay in touch and share, constantly bringing out new tools, such as video chat, messaging and the ability to livestream.

If you’re a parent, you need to understand the risks to children of livestreaming. The National Crime Agency has warned that sex offenders are increasingly using them to exploit children and there's an urgent need to educate children about the dangers.

[Read more: Facebook Live – everything you need to know]

Internet Matters, a not for profit organisation dedicated to keeping children safe online has created a comprehensive guide about the dangers of livestreaming apps, packed with expert advice. Find out more below.

What are livestreaming apps?

Livestreaming apps let you broadcast what you are doing live to a social network.  Those following you can see what you’re doing, and comment on your broadcast. ­­­­­Once the broadcast is over, you can delete it, or keep it on your page.

They can be integrated into social media apps, like Facebook Live or Instagram’s Live Video.

There are also standalone livestreaming apps like Live.ly, which is the sister app of Musical.ly.

Why would anyone livestream?

Livestreaming allows ordinary people to broadcast live. For children, it’s a unique way to share a special moment with family and friends – this could be opening exam results, singing happy birthday or showing off a dance routine.

It’s also a way for ordinary people to be involved or to get an insight into events and celebrities’ lives.

BT.com recently livestreamed the launch of InLink UK with BT kiosks in Camden. Celebrities such as Serena Williams often “go live” to answer questions or share part of their day with fans.

Graphic of two people live streaming

What are the dangers of livestreaming?

1. Watching livestreams

The main danger children face when viewing a live broadcast is that they could be watching something unsuitable, which could be upsetting. 

Children could be exposed to violence and sexual content without knowing, particularly if the broadcaster lies about what they are broadcasting in the description.

In extreme cases, there have been incidents of people livestreaming suicides on Facebook Live.

2. Broadcasting livestreams

Online grooming: If privacy settings aren’t in place, your child could be broadcasting to strangers, some of whom may have bad intentions. They could get in touch with your child via the comments, placing them at risk of online grooming. Alternatively they could encourage or offer gifts to children to do things on camera - such as perform sexual acts. The National Crime Agency has released a short animation showing how offenders try and build relationships with children. 

Offensive comments: People can leave comments on livestreams. These comments could be abusive and upset your child.

Online reputation: Everything your child does online contributes to their “digital footprint” - an online record made up of photos, posts, comments or videos.   Employers now search social networks to find out about a prospective employee. If a child’s digital footprint – including a live broadcast – contains anything offensive, sexual or extreme, it could have repercussions on their employment prospects and how other people perceive them.  Find out more.

Playing up for the camera: The thrill of being “live”’ may encourage children to take risks and do things they wouldn’t usually do in day to day life.

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What can parents do to keep children safe when livestreaming?

  • Privacy settings: If your child is going to livestream, check their social network privacy settings are active and they are only streaming to friends. In Facebook, find this in Settings – Privacy – Who can see my stuff.
  • Get involved: If your child wants to livestream, make sure you’re with them – particularly if they are younger. Find out who they are streaming to. Remember Facebook and Instagram’s minimum age is 13, so if they are younger they should not be using these social networks and livestreaming.
  • Blocking: Social networks allow you to block other users from seeing your profile, commenting in posts and starting a conversation. Show your child how to do this, in the event someone makes inappropriate or cruel comments to them.
  • Reporting: If your child sees something on a livestream that upsets them, encourage them to report it, or at least let you know so you can do so. On Facebook, you can do this by clicking the drop-down arrow on the post and selecting Report.
  • Parental Controls: Make sure you've got parental controls activated. BT's Parental Controls are available to all Broadband customers and include filters that let you block content such as Social Networking. You can also block individual websites, so if your child tries to connect via home wi-fi they won't be able too.
  • Talk to your child: We’ve talked a bit about online reputation, and it’s really important to encourage your child to think about what they are broadcasting. Explain if they broadcast something live on the internet, anyone can see it, so they need to be careful about what they say and do.  Talk to them about online “stranger danger” so they are aware of potential threats, and warn them about giving out personal information.

For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.