2006, 2006, Bulletin Board, News

Special News Release for Parents

Massachusetts Attorney General Reilly warns parents about the potential dangers of children using social networking websites

Recent incidents involving Internet crimes against children have been prominent in the media. In some incidents, these crimes involved suspects and victims who met each other online through social networking sites. Online social networking sites have become increasingly popular with children, especially young teens, as a place where they can meet other people, communicate, and exchange information. Unfortunately, these sites have also become a “virtual playground” for criminals and potential child predators to communicate anonymously with prey upon potential victims.

How do social networking sites work?

Any computer with Internet access can be used to join a social networking site. Some sites require only that the registrant provide an email address and often there is no system in place to verify the validity of any of the information that a registrant provides during the registration process. Most sites require that users abide by the terms of use meant to curb improper conduct, but enforcement of these terms is limited and often relies on users to report violations.

Once a registrant becomes a member, he or she can post personal information, images, or other information depending upon the features available at the site. Unless the site offers privacy settings for the disclosure of certain information and the user chooses to activate these settings, all the information the user posts on the site may be visible for all other users of the site.

There are many social networking site, including:

  • www.Facebook.com
  • www.Friendsfusion.com
  • www.Intellectconnect.com
  • www.Livejounal.com
  • www.Myspace.com
  • www.Tagworld.com
  • www.Xanga.com

What are the potential dangers associated with social networking sites?

  • Luring/Enticement – Internet sexual predators and known sex offenders have used social networking sites to locate and communicate with potential victims.
  • Identity Theft – Criminals may steal the identities of users who post personal information.
  • Bogus or False Profiles – Individuals may create false profiles in order to remain anonymous in their communications, or may even copy personal information and photographs from a child’s profile and use the information and photographs to create a bogus profile depicting the child in an inappropriate manner.
  • Cyberbullying /Harassment – Individuals may post derogatory, hurtful, or threatening information about others.
  • Stalking – Stalkers can use personal information posted to the sites to locate and pursue victims.
  • Fraud Schemes – Criminals who wish to defraud others of money or property can locate victims, gain their trust is inappropriate for young computer users.

The DOs and DON’Ts of Online Social Networking:

AG Reilly advises parents to take the following steps to protect your children from those who misuse social networking sites.

DOs

  • Explain to your child that the Internet is public and that anyone may gain access to information that he or she posts on it.
  • Discuss Internet risks with your child and set clear expectations about the steps that he or she will take to stay safe online.
  • Engage your child in frequent discussions about how he or she uses the Internet and his or her online experiences.
  • Remind your child that visitors to social networking sites often disguise their indentity.
  • View any page your child has set up on a social networking site to make certain that its content does not compromise your child’s safety of others.
  • Enable computer Internet filtering features if they are available from your Internet service.
  • Know your children’s passwords, screen names, and account information.
  • Put the computer in a family area of the household and do not permit private use.
  • Report all inappropriate, non-criminal behavior to the site through its reporting procedures.

DONTs

  • Post personal image, including photographs of themselves, their friends, or their family.
  • Post their name or address.
  • Post their age or date of birth.
  • Post the name of their school, the names of their teams, or their grade level.
  • Post their calendar of upcoming events or any information about their future whereabouts.

If your child receives sexually explict materials or communications over the Internet, you should report it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipLine (www.cybertipline.com) or calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

You may also obtain additional information regarding Internet safety at the website of the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly at www.ago.state.ma.us and clicking the “Publications” button on the right hand side of the homepage and reviewing the “Consumer” publications, or by visiting NCMEC Netsmartz Workshop at www.netsmartz.org.