Two things happened today:
1. Apple announced a security update for the iPhone to counter software that can record your calls, read your text messages and emails, record sounds, collect passwords, and trace your whereabouts.
2. One of Born2Fly's former interns contacted me about a friend who discovered a trafficker recruiting her 13-year-old daughter online -- and was well into the recruitment process. Thankfully the mom read her daughter's Twitter account and is working with law enforcement. Sadly a lot of damage has already been done.
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. "But my Facebook page is private!" Really? I'm not even friends with you on Facebook (I only follow my immediate family) and I can see everything you post. Like pictures of your kids and grandkids...when you're out of town on vacation...that new car you just bought. What are you thinking?
Most parents really think social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumbr, Kik, YikYak, Instagram, and other sites 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.
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.
Here's what happened to one teenager as a result of posting explicit photos of herself:
“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.”
The Internet Watch Foundation 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.”
Parents, please teach your kids internet safety. Here are resources you can use:
- Gaggle Student Safety: Top social networks & apps that pose risks to students
- Common Sense Media: 16 social media apps that often fly under parents' radar
- IWF: Hotline for the public to report inadvertent exposure to child sexual abuse content
- 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
And while you're at it, parents, please check your own online safety. You can start with your Facebook page. Please make sure it's private--including the photos. Just go to the Facebook help page and search privacy settings.