While many children venture safely through social media platforms, some have been subjected to frightening experiences. Children are very susceptible to becoming victim to online criminal behavior, ranging from bullying, stalking and sexual harassment, to child sexual exploitation and “sextortion”. You may have heard of many of these, but sextortion may be new to you and has drastically risen since the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began to track sextortion cases in 2013. These cases do not discriminate and have involved children as young as 8 years old.
Sextortion is primarily a form of online sexual exploitation of children in which offenders use threats to expose sexual content of a child in order to coerce them to do something, or for revenge or humiliation. Offenders utilize manipulation tactics, often in combination with other methods, to groom children. They may create fake profiles, offer reciprocity of content, money or drugs in exchange, or be in a relationship with (or develop a relationship) based on a child’s profile information.
Surprisingly, even though offenders may create sexual content of a child using digital-editing tools or obtain content by tricking, threatening, forcing or pressuring children, many children have knowingly provided content freely. Offenders typically use one platform, but recent trends show increased use of multiple platforms. Thus, a child may be “friended” on social media and then move to communicate via anonymous messaging applications or live-stream video chats. Most cases occur within the same day as the content shared, but some children have fallen victim years later.
Although there are many platforms accessible to children today, offenders have reportedly contacted or directed children to use the following most often: social networking (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), messaging (Snapchat, Kik), video programs (Music.ly, Skype, webcam sites), and dating platforms (Hot or Not, Tinder). Reported cases of video sharing social medial platforms (Vine, Tumblr) and gaming systems are on the rise, as well.
Many social media platforms are difficult for parents to regulate for their child’s use. Most do have registration-related age restrictions and are truly designed for adults as content is not moderated, but sometimes verification is simply a check mark. Tech savvy children are navigating them to meet new people, near and far.
Educate yourself first. Technology is ever-changing so parents must stay educated as new platforms become available. If you don’t know everything about the platform, your child should not be using it.
Be the parent. Approve every platform prior to download or use. Access friend lists with them and make sure they know each “friend.”
Communicate. Have an agreement with your children that they can come to you regarding their accounts, no matter the situation, without punishment.
Set restrictions on cell phones and check them regularly. Add filters to Internet access and apply application privacy settings.
Teach children how to self-monitor and the dangers of over-sharing on any platform.
Navigating new and improved technology can be scary, but it doesn’t need to be. We can help children be smart and safely navigate social media.
By // Janice Semora