Even though adults, teens and children can use social networking sites from the safety of their own homes, sexual predators have found ways of victimizing users online. By hiding behind fake profiles to lure victims, using profile information to stalk their victims in real life or hacking into accounts to blackmail victims, sexual predators pose very real dangers for users on social media sites like MySpace and Facebook.
Social networking sites give sexual predators a way to locate and initiate contact with potential victims. All the victim can see is a profile, with any picture and information the predator choses to use, making it easy for the predator to pose as anyone they want. This includes posing as children or teens to attract younger victims or posing as military personnel to attract adult victims. Predators can then use this contact to arrange meetings in real life, where they can victimize their target.
Real Life Stalking
Sexual predators can use social media sites to physically stalk their intended victims. When users post information about themselves and their activities, stalkers can take that information to learn about their targets' interests and schedules. Predators can then use this information to locate and stalk their victims in the real world, not just online. According to an article in the Journal of Adolescent Health quoted by Enough is Enough, 65 percent of online sex offenders used social media sites to collect home and school information about their victims. Social posts that specify a user's precise location make it particularly easy for online predators to locate and stalk victims.
Sexual predators don't have to find users in real life to victimize them. If a predator hacks into a victim's account and finds intimate or compromising pictures or other sensitive information, he can use that material to blackmail the user. For example, in 2010, the FBI arrested a man on charges of hacking and blackmailing over 200 victims. After stealing private pictures to use as blackmail material, he coerced his victims into providing him with inappropriate pictures and videos of themselves. This practice of stealing material to blackmail victims into providing the predator with such material is known as sextortion.
Privacy Settings and Precautions
While there is no way to entirely eliminate the danger of sexual predators searching for victims on Facebook and MySpace, users can take steps to protect themselves. By ensuring they have strict privacy settings that limit access to their profile to people they know, users can reduce the risk of stalkers targeting them. By using a secure password and changing it regularly, users reduce the chance of their account being compromised. Additionally, users can protect themselves by only interacting with people on social networking sites they already know.
- USA Today: Sex Predators Target Children Using Social Media
- The Guardian: Facebook murderer Who Posed as Teenager to Lure Victim Jailed For Life
- BBC: 'Sextortion' Man Charged Over 'Blackmailing Women Online'
- Facebook Safety Center: Playing It Safe
- Internet Safety 101: Predator Statistics
- FindLaw: The FBI's Alert Regarding "Sextortion": Why Cyber Blackmail, Though Illegal, Is Difficult to Stop and What Computer Users Can Do
- U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command: Online Romance Scam Information
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