As more of the world has access to the internet and social media compared to 20 years ago, it is even more important than ever that we exercise caution when it comes to how we use modern technology. More importantly, leave nothing to chance when it comes to protecting children from the online predators who are actively seeking them out.
When it comes to the internet and social media, privacy is a thing of a past. The most valuable currency online is not money but personal information. After all, sites like Facebook and Twitter are hit by cyber attackers looking to gain access to the personal information of the millions who use those sites. Said information is in turn sold to the highest bidder or used to open lines of credit in your name. It’s not like the 90s where you had to be browsing certain kinds of websites to get into trouble. Now, the trouble is actively prowling Social Media and online games looking for their next victim.
Even those adults who know little about the internet knows not to disclose certain kinds of information to complete strangers they meet online. The same can’t be said about children and that is why pedophiles and sex predators have become more bold and brazen than they have in the past in luring children through social media and video games. When I say “child”, I mean someone who is 17 and under for the purposes of this blog post.
Here’s 5 questions I want to pose to you:
- Does your child have their own Social Media account(s)?
- Does your child play video games online at home and if so, does the game have a text chat or voice chat feature?
- Do you have pictures of your children posted or shared on your own Social Media account?
- Does your child have a desktop/laptop, netbook, cell phone or tablet that only they use?
- Does your child use technology unsupervised?
If your answered Yes to ANY of these questions, your child could be targeted by online predators or already may be. Just so folks know, most Social Media platforms state one must be at least 13 years old to make an account. Facebook has been aggressively closing accounts made by underage users to protect them from the pedophiles prowling the site for children.
It’s not just Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Pedophiles are prowling popular video games like Minecraft and Fortnite specifically looking for kids to approach. First they gain the child’s trust and then things get dark and perverse fast. Of course, they approach pretending to be kids themselves wanting to be friends. Once they’re sure they’re talking to a child, they start asking age inappropriate questions.
If your child uses social media or video games with private chat features, ask them if they have been asked or told any of the following questions by someone they met online:
- “Where do you live?”
- “What’s your first name?”
- “Can you send me a pic? I want to see what you look like.” and “You look cute/good. Wanna be my boy/girl friend?”
- “You sound young. How old are you?”
- “What are you wearing right now?”
- “Can I have your cell number/email? I have something to show you.”
- “Can we video chat/FaceTime?”
- “Would you like to meet?”
If your child answered Yes to any of these, they may be talking to a pedophile. NONE of these are appropriate for an adult to knowingly ask anyone under 18, let alone under 13. Of course, most kids wouldn’t know. The predator’s fishing for info to confirm who they’re talking to is in fact a child and not an undercover cop. Once that’s confirmed, they work on two things: Getting a child to send them nude photos or video and arranging an in-person meetup. Again, a child wouldn’t know. Such material is usually quickly shared on Child Porn sites.
The only way to prevent this from happening is to use your Parential Discretion and actively monitor your child. Here is a checklist I highly reccommend:
- Set Parental Locks on any video game systems, cellphones or tablets and other electronic devices your child will be using. This helps limit the device’s communication features both ways.
- On your Facebook account set photos of your children to Friends of Friends, Friends or Me Only. This severely limits who can see them. At the same time, do not set pictures of your children as your Profile or Cover Photo. That invites predators and pedophiles to browse your photos and download pictures of your children without your permission or knowledge.
- If you child plays video games online, tell them not to tell anyone they don’t know in person their name, age, phone number, email address or game account information.
- Children under 14 should not have a computer in their bedroom unless there is internet filtering software installed or parental locks enabled on it. On both PCs and Macs, you can set parental locks that restrict both internet usage and installing or modifying programs.
…No longer are we worrying about Pedophiles just hiding in plain sight. They have figured out how to target children from the safety of their own homes. In short, extra care needs to be taken when kids are using technology. Talk to your children about the importance of internet safety and privacy. Tell them that not everyone who is friendly to them is who they say they are and teach them the importance of not revealing their real name, age or location to anyone they have never met in person before.
If your child has a cell phone, make sure they understand no one they have not personally met is allowed to know their cell phone number. Boys and girls should also be instructed to never take pictures of themselves with no clothes on and more importantly, tell anyone who asks for such pictures NO. Make sure children understand only a parent, adult family member or doctor is allowed to see or touch their private parts or butt and no one else. Just put it like that. Make sure they understand it’s not ok to show their private parts to anyone else with or without their permission. For teenagers under 18, make sure they understand they and whoever they’re dating can be charged with posession of child porn for “Sexting” even if it is consentual (and it usually is consentual) as long as one or both is under 18.
These days, constant vigilance is the only way to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable from the predators who actively seek them out. Most children are very trusting and have no way of knowing the harm in talking to a complete stranger or exchanging nude pictures with a complete stranger who asks. All they know is someone is being very nice to them and is giving them their complete attention. They have no way of knowing howing why they are being asked for pictures of their private parts. Such images or video are almost immediately shared with other pedophiles via the Dark Web and once something is shared on the Dark Web, there’s no going back.
…If you’re a parent or guardian and terrified by now, you should be. Use the information I provided and put it to protecting your children. Like I said at the top, the monsters change with the times. It’s on us to change with the times and do what we can to keep ahead of them.
It is worth noting Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have Parental Restrictions on their current and previous game systems. All three expanded the Parental Restrictions to include communication features on their respective consoles. Most gamers already know this but most exchange their gamertag or game account username online on various websites to connect and play with others. Most gamers are also aware all three discourage this practice and warn that gamers only add people they know to their contacts list.
5 years ago, Nintendo famously disabled the Online and Spotpass communication features of its then hugely popular Swap Note Messaging App on the Nintendo 3DS when it was discovered some were using it for Sexting. There were concerns Pedophiles could use the Swap Note App to exchange pictures with minors. Of course, Nintendo was well aware many 3DS owners exchange their Nintendo ID online on various video game websites or social media.
Since Swap Note is Peer to Peer communication, the obvious concern was a minor could unknowingly add a Pedophile to their contacts list from a website who could then in turn exchange nude pictures with them. Nintendo decided to disable the Spotpass and online communication features almost overnight worldwide as a precaution. It was a risk they were not willing to take. Although the change all but killed the app, I still believe they made they right call. The risk for potential misuse was just too high.
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