Dangers of social media discussed at library event
Today, more and more young people own cell phones and tablets, and many are heavily engaged in social media.
While social media can have benefits, it also has a dark side with real-world dangers that parents must be aware of to protect their children. There are more than 1,000 social media sites available through the Internet, and the membership of Facebook alone exceeds the physical population of Europe and the U.S. combined.
"Facebook has 1.4 billion profiles," said JJ Goulbourne, Barry Lawrence Regional Library IT manager. "It's like a small city, and like any city, it will have criminal enterprises."
Goulbourne has 22 years experience in law enforcement, has helped prosecute online perpetrators, and recommends parents take a reality check and wake up to what can happen if they are not personally invested in a child's use of social media,.
"Digital responsibility is important in everyone's life," Goulbourne said.
Predators are targeting children, and parents either aren't aware of the dangers, or are not involved enough in their child's life to intercept those dangers, so having a conversation with a child, before something happens, is crucial, Goulbourne said. Otherwise, a child will confide in a undesirable source elsewhere.
"Tell your kids to apply real-world judgement," Goulbourne said. "If they get involved in anything inappropriate, they need to let you know. Predators use online media. It's called grooming. They look for the kids with unstable homes, or who have the emotional detachment from their families. ISIS is now using the same method to recruit people."
Once predators target a child, they will use empathy, then introduce sex into the conversation.
"So the child tells them all that's happening in their life [that they're not telling the parents], the predator grabs them, then takes little steps to gain their confidence," Goulbourne said.
A recent example was a 12-year-old from Lawrence county who fell prey.
"The perpetrator drove all the way from St. Louis to come get her," Goulbourne said. "It's not just happening in the big cities. No, because the small towns is where they're looking to fish.
"I have a standing rule in my house -- there is no expectation of privacy," said Goulbourne. "At any given time, I can ask to check their device, and they can lose it for a week or even a month if I find something that shouldn't be on there."
When is the right age for a child to have a device or phone, parents ask?
Goulbourne said individual circumstances must be considered, such as special needs and maturity level.
"I say when they begin driving," he said. "The bottom line is, do you trust your kid enough to have a phone?"
If a child is given a phone, Goulbourne recommends parents have them sign a contract and be responsible for the device.
What may seem like innocent flirting can also get children into trouble.
If an 18-year-old boy is dating a 16-year-old girl, the two engage in sexting, sending inappropriate pictures, and one is in another state, it can constitute a felony, Goulbourne said.
"If you send material across state lines, it's a federal crime," Goulbourne said. "Do you want your teenager to be labeled a sex offender for the rest of their life? That person just violated the law and becomes a suspect."
Perpetrators often use apps like Periscope, a live video streaming app, to spy on their victims.
"Perpetrators can turn on webcams remotely on a child's computer, and watch absolutely everything your child does in the privacy of their own room as long as the computer is turned on," he said.
The After School app and Whisper app can also be dangerous.
"The [After School] app makes it seem [by the name] like it's sponsored by schools, but it brings up inappropriate imaging," Goulbourne said.
Teens use the app to anonymously post thoughts about secret anxieties, crushes and threats, that parents and other adults are unaware of because the app is designed to be accessible only to teenagers.
Cyber stalking is also a growing threat.
"Cyber stalking has led kids to commit suicide," Goulbourne said. "These are much harder to catch because they need to leave a digital footprint to grab. But perpetrators have measures to erase that."
* Have a dialogue with children before cutting them loose.
"You need to be the trusted source," he said. "If you fail to develop a dialogue, they will seek advice elsewhere, and it won't be an appropriate source."
* Set limits, expectations, then monitor. Google has a Parental Control function that will automatically intercept inappropriate material on a child's device.
* Get involved in everything they do online. Don't expect teachers and administrators to do it.
* Be aware of identify theft.The Child's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal organization that prevents companies from gathering a child's information if they're under 13.
Goulbourne said young children now have credit histories with mortgages and credit card debt in their names because perpetrators are stealing their information.
"Just imagine your child going to college, applying for student loans, and finding out they have a mortgage in their name," Goulbourne said. "This is real-world, and it has happened."
Goulbourne encourages parents to pull credit checks on their child and report any suspicious items because discrepancies can take up to two years to clear up. Parents can also request a credit freeze and a code to lock it.
* Talk with children about privacy, posting personal information, and knowing the difference, not only to guard their safety, but their reputation, because once posted on the Internet, information cannot be taken back.
"Tell your kids, 'Be careful about the things you post,'" Goulbourne said. "Certain things are private, such as the street you live on, where your parents work, etc. Even if a post is deleted, it's image is still stored and it can be retrieved."
Goulbourne can be reached at 417-235-6646 for speaking engagements about digital safety.