MORE than 50pc of Irish youngsters aged eight to 11 have social media accounts despite strict age restrictions in place.

This has heightened concerns about their vulnerability to cyber-bullying. Facebook director of policy in the UK and Ireland Simon Milner admitted the US social media giant faces “a significant problem” with underage youngsters gaining accounts, often with their parents’ help. The company implements a strict 13-year age limit for its use to comply with US data protection regulations.

However, both internet studies and EU youth trend analysis has indicated vast social media use by children as young as eight in countries like Ireland. One study indicated that up to 50pc of eight-year-olds had Facebook accounts.

Mr Milner said yesterday that other studies have indicated that up to 75pc of these cases involved youngsters being aided by their parents in bypassing age restriction controls. “This is definitely a problem. It is very, very difficult for us to react when parents are helping their children to lie about their age. We don’t hide from that,” he said. Mr Milner and Facebook safety director Patricia Cartes said that recent cyber-bullying tragedies in Ireland should serve as “a wake up call” for everyone.

This followed alleged links between a Latvian social media site and the deaths last year of Ciara Pugsley (15) in Co Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) in Co Donegal. Both teens took their own lives after a vicious campaign of online bullying. Facebook confirmed they are not going to remove an ‘app’ from the controversial Latvian site despite the deaths of the two Irish teens. The US firm, which has over one billion users, had their safety development team review the site and their use of Facebook protocols.

“On the grounds that they actually didn’t break our (data) terms – people are much safer going to it (from Facebook) than going off Facebook. If we had removed that link, I think we would have left some of our younger users in a less safe place,” he said. – Ralph Riegel – 21 February 2013