Social networking is all the rage. Kids these days have mostly moved to Instagram and Snapchat rather than Facebook, but many have profiles and access on all of the above and then some. Various websites continue to sprng up for the sole purpose of providing a place for users to express themselves, share with like-minded individuals, discover new things, and communicate with others. There’s a good chance there are some cutting edge social network platforms you’re not even aware of, but your kids are…and so are the predators that want to target your kids.
There have been numerous instances of sexual predators and child molesters posing as children to network with young victims on Facebook. The concept of social networking extends to other areas as well. For example, Youtube provides users with the ability to express their creativity, network, rate their favorite video clips, etc. While not directly related to a social network, Craigslist, the popular regional classified listings site, has used by a predators to lure victims.
Some sites like Flickr, Tumblr, or PhotoBucket provide users with the ability to post and share photos and family videos. It is possible to restrict access and only let users you identify view the pictures, but many users are proud of their kids and their photographic skills and allow the general public to view the photos as well. Child molesters and sexual deviants can search through these sites as well, though, and bookmark their favorite photos of young boys and girls.
The bottom line is that social networking is hugely popular and it is big business. Unfortunately, child molesters, sexual predators, and scam artists have discovered that these sites can also be exploited to find victims. Anywhere online that allows for commenting and communication can also be exploited by predators and bullies.
Follow these steps to use social networking sites responsibly and avoid becoming a victim:
- Be Skeptical. At least be cautious. The point of social networking is to find people who share your interests and establish a network of friends, but don’t let down your defenses too easily. Just because someone claims to like the same music as you, or share a passion for scrapbooking, doesn’t mean it is true. These new “friends” are virtual and faceless and you can’t completely trust that they are what they say they are.
- Be Diligent. Knowing that the potential exists for scam artists or sexual predators to be lurking about, keep an eye on your profile and be diligent about who you allow connecting with your profile. For photo sharing sites like Flickr, check out the users who are marking your photos as their Favorites. If some stranger is marking all of the pictures of your 7-year old son as their Favorites, it seems a little creepy and may be cause for concern.
- Report Suspicious Behavior. If you have reason to believe that someone is a sexual predator or scam artist, report it to the site. If you look at the profile of the user marking your son’s photos as their Favorites, you might find that they have marked hundreds of other young boy’s photos as their Favorites. Flickr, and other such sites, should take action against this sort of suspicious behavior. If they do not, report it by contacting your local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Communicate. Parents who have children that surf the web and frequent these social networking sites should communicate with their children. Make sure your children are aware of the threat, and that they are educated about how to use the web safely. Make sure that they understand the risks and that they know they can talk with you about suspicious or malicious activity they encounter.
- Monitor. If you want additional peace of mind, or you don’t fully trust that your children will stay within the guidelines you have laid out, install some monitoring software to watch their online behavior. Using a product like TeenSafe or NetNanny allows you to monitor and record all activity on a given computer and keep an eye on your children.