One of the best and worst things about the internet is the concept of anonymity. On one hand, being anonymous preserves our right to privacy, and keeps intrusive organizations and governments from watching the things that we do. On the other, anonymity can enable people to behave their absolute worst and empower questionable behavior with little fear of backlash. People can say anything and pretend to be anyone -- and it's increasingly more difficult to know if anyone is really who they say they are!
That's why a number of bad actors are taking advantage of anonymity to hurt some of the most vulnerable people on the internet: our kids. More than ever, children on the internet are at risk of exploitation from strangers -- and these deviants have an entirely new toolkit at their disposal to get what they want.
Now, government agencies like the FBI are stepping up their game and warning parents about the dangers of child predators and sexploitation online. It's taken its battle against online predators public and wants everyone to know what to watch out for. Here's what they said, as well as how you can protect your kids from the worst people on the internet.
How has sexploitation grown in recent years?
According to the FBI, child sexploitation is defined as "when an adult coerces or entices a child to produce a sexually explicit image." While already an unfortunately common phenomenon on the internet, sexploitation has exploded in recent years thanks to the growth of online gaming and video sharing -- two genres of web-based entertainment extremely popular with kids.
Take Fortnite, for example. Its popularity with children can't be overstated, and as a result, it's become a hotbed of activity for online predators. A common scenario involves a predator offering in-game money or codes in order to coerce an explicit image or personal information -- which can be used to further exploit the victim.
Oftentimes, when a predator gets a hold of explicit content, they'll post or threaten to post the image publicly unless their demands are met -- demands which usually turn out to be more explicit or dangerous content that keeps the victim isolated.
The FBI takes to Twitter in its crusade against predators
The sexploitation epidemic has become so bad that the FBI is taking its campaign against predators to the public forum of social media. In a recent Twitter post, the Feds posted a grim reminder that although we might take comfort in how connected we are to the internet, we never truly know who, exactly, we're connected with.
The internet connects you with the world. Do you know who in the world is connecting with you? Sending one explicit image can start a scary cycle. Don’t send photos to anyone you don’t know in real life, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. #StopSextortion https://t.co/nHe8lp2D9Z pic.twitter.com/W9E5CJ6PvT
— FBI (@FBI) July 3, 2019
Included with the tweet was a link to an FBI update from May that describes several case studies involving internet-based exploitation of children.
In these incidents, nearly all of the victims were young teens who were taken advantage of by much older adults -- with some of them even threatened or manipulated into sending explicit images. One teen was so distraught by their predicament that they attempted suicide.
Thankfully, that attempt failed. But, there are still hundreds of unknown victims across the country who may not feel like they have an escape from their tormentors.
In addition to the Twitter update, the FBI has uploaded a video with detailed information for parents on how predators manipulate their victims through social media, and why it's important to have conversations with your kids about the dangers of online predators.
Ultimately, it's a good thing the FBI is bringing this issue to the public's attention. By putting the nature of the threat out in the open, it makes it harder for predators to operate in secret -- and exposes much of their tactics to a wider audience than ever before.
If you feel like your kids might be at risk from online predators, the best thing you can do is sit down and talk with them about basic online safety measures. Advise them to never send images of any kind to people they don't know, and to always practice skepticism when dealing with strangers.
Most importantly, remind them that anything posted online, regardless of its content, can potentially be used to hurt them. After all, a smaller digital footprint is the strongest defense against creeps, bullies, and criminals in cyberspace.
Kim's parent-child tech contract covers all of this and more. It’s the most comprehensive contract of its kind. It covers email, text messaging, gaming forums, passwords, bullying and suicide, and more. You have our permission to download it, print it, and share it.
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