SEXUALLY explicit messages, photographs and images sent back and forth between young people is considered normal modern day flirting, according to internet security expert Avril Ronan.
Ms Ronan, who is head of internet security at Trend Micro, said the phenomenon called ‘sexting’ is now viewed as normal and this new culture is putting pressure on teens to share such images.
“I am not saying it is acceptable, but I am saying kids these days see it as modern day flirting.”
Receiving naked images of an under 18-year-old is considered a child pornography crime under Irish legislation, however, according to Mr Ronan, there is an epidemic of young people engaged in such activity.
“Sexting under the age of 18 is considered a professional distribution of child sexual abuse material, but kids don’t know that,” she said.
Ms Ronan said it was important to educate children on the legal guidelines surrounding the use of the internet and mobile phone applications.
“Kids are smart and savvy all they need is the information and they will be wiser of it,” she added.
The internet expert said the trend is putting a lot of young people in a compromising position and also under a lot of pressure.
“It puts a lot of pressure on people and again how much of a violation of your privacy and your safety and your security it can be when you post images of yourself or others in compromising situations online.
In some situations, the images can lead to cyber bullying in schools and in communities.
“You get exposed to cyber bullying as a result of it,” Ms Ronan said.
The internet safety expert advised people to think twice before posting an intimate image online or sending a sexually explicit message or photograph to another individual as in some cases it can lead to blackmail called ‘sextortion’.
“If you are a target of cyber bullying already you become automatically a potential victim or client for a predator to approach and befriend and build a trusting relationship with and then leads to sexual coercion which is when they blackmail you for money they may get you to take naked photographs of yourself, video yourself naked.”
Ms Ronan encouraged young people to take care online and be savvy with the messages they send to others.
“You may think you are in a trusting relationship and it turns out that they are not who they say they were and then they may ask you for money or they are going to potentially expose you to everyone in your broader community.”