People always ask me, "How can I stop child trafficking?"
One of my answers: "Don't let your kids post pictures of themselves online. Don't even post them yourself."
People look at me like I'm crazy. They really think social media sites like Facebook are lock-tight secure. As if porn peddlers (aka child traffickers) would never ever in a million years think of downloading pix of kids online and reselling them.
A new study by the Internet Watch Foundation found otherwise. IWF tracked explicit online images and videos of kids and teens and found that a whopping 88% of them came from social media sites -- photos that the kids themselves posted.
In less than 48 working hours, IWF found more than 12,000 images and videos spread over 68 websites.
Wake up, parents.
“During the course of our work we encounter large quantities of self-generated sexual content [that] has been copied from its original location and then uploaded elsewhere to form collections," said Sarah Smith, IWF technical researcher, "but this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate the extent to which this occurs.”
Adds Susie Hargreaves, IWF CEO, “This research gives an unsettling indication of the number of images and videos on the internet featuring young people performing sexually explicit acts or posing.
“It also highlights the problem of control of these images," she continued. "Once an image has been copied onto a parasite website, it will no longer suffice to simply remove the image from the online account. We need young people to realise that once an image or a video has gone online, they may never be able to remove it entirely.”
Here's what happened to one teenager as a result of posting pix online:
“I came to regret posting photographs of myself naively on the internet and tried to forget about it, but strangers recognized me from the photographs and made lewd remarks at school. I endured so much bullying because of this photograph and the others...
"I was eventually admitted for severe depression and was treated for a suicide attempt.”
Remember, the originating photos don't have to be explicit. One anti-trafficker who works with victims in Florida told me she won't post pictures of her children online because traffickers can easily download them and manipulate them. They take your child's head and put it on someone else's body, and voila, an explicit photo of your child that's then sold all over the internet.
Yes, she was talking about Facebook and other supposedly secure social media sites. I don't have a personal Facebook account yet I can get on many Facebook pages. Including kids. Facebook is absolutely positively not secure.
Parents, please teach your kids internet safety. Here are resources you can use:
- IWF: Hotline for the public to report inadvertent exposure to child sexual abuse content
- UK Safer Internet Centre: Helpline providing esafety advice for professionals working with young people
- SafeKids.com: Kids rules for online safety (specifically for pre-teens)
- FBI: Safety tips for kids online
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: Basic internet safety for kids