In various forms, an onslaught of evil exists through social media and smartphone messaging.
No one is more vulnerable to this insidious attack than young people.
Responsible adults need to take the time to understand the risks so they can help young people be more mindful of the consequences of bad decisions with electronic communication.
Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of N.C., focused on this Tuesday when he announced the indictment of a 23-year-old man on charges of enticement of a minor, production and distribution of child pornography, communicating threats and related offenses.
Murray said social media, which in this context includes messaging, are great ways to stay connected but also come with great risks. It’s all too easy for predators to assume fake identifies, gain the trust and then take advantage of naïve young people – and adults for that matter.
He used this occasion, which coincides with the start of a new school year, to urge parents to be vigilant about monitoring children’s use of social media and messaging. Remind young people that anyone can pretend to be anyone on the Internet or on a smartphone.
For example, the man charged in the federal indictment announced by Murray is accused of using smartphone messaging apps like Snapchat and Kik to make victims believe he was a girl. He is charged with then enticing young victims to send him sexually explicit images and videos of themselves.
According to the indictment, these photos and videos were transported via interstate or even international commerce by computer.
The suspect worked at Watauga High School, West Wilkes Middle School and a church-sponsored summer camp for youths within the period in which the offenses are supposed to have occurred.
It’s important to say that the man hasn’t been convicted, but a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office strongly recommended that parents check their children’s phones and social media accounts for fake names he used. She said the ones he used most often were “Savannah,” “princesssav222,” “lickmeup5020” and “Sav,” but others were “frankie5020,” “Lauren,” “Sydney,” “Sarah,” “Lily,” “Kaylee” and “Stephanie.”
The spokesman said people who believe they or someone they know may have been a victim in the case or have information related to it should call the Boone Police Department at 828-268-6938.
Kik is a free messaging app that lets users connect with each other without providing their phone numbers, which preserves anonymity. It’s been used in numerous child exploitation incidents.
Snapchat lets users send photos for a set amount of time. Once time runs out, the picture disappears, but receiving users can take a screen photo of the image. Users can block and remove users, send users their location and request locations of others.
Others to be aware of include Facebook, Tinder, Ask.fm, Mappen and iMessage.
Facebook lets users add, remove and block friends, share their location with friends and the public and share photos both privately and publicly.
Tinder is an online dating app that allows users to meet up with people in their area. Users link their profile to their Facebook account, post a few photos of themselves with a short description, and then set their profile to public. Users then find each other, can have conversations and potentially meet up if interested. Users shouldn’t be younger than 18, but falsifying your age online isn’t uncommon.
Ask.fm, an application and website, allows users to ask each other questions, both openly and anonymously. It’s been in the news frequently because it is used for cyberbullying.
Mappen allows users to share their locations so friends can meet up with them or see where they are. The app allows users to add friends by username, QR code and phone number. It’s always tracking your location, even when it’s not open.
iMessage is used to send text, photos, videos, audio and more.
There are several parental-control apps for smartphones that can be used to track locations of kids, see whom they are communicating with, block kids from viewing objectionable or dangerous websites and help them understand the value of limits while preventing them from accessing adult content or communicating with strangers.
Smartphones also have ways to help parents keep up with their kids.