Every day it seems a new social media app comes out.
Every day news of abuse related to information shared via social media comes out, but what can parents do to help protect their children in the constantly evolving online world?
Lt. Bill Hough is the lead investigator with the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Department and is frequently called in on internet crimes. Hough said apps come and go as wildly as children’s interests change.
“If it’s a new fad, the kids will follow it,” Hough said of new apps. “For the most part, they are OK amongst friends and doing the right thing. It becomes bad when you accept people you don’t know.”
Hough said the rules apply to the social media apps that have been around for a while like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and the same idea applies to new services like Whisper, WhatsApp and TikTok. He said a few basic rules should keep everyone safe from online predators no matter the app.
“If you don’t know someone personally, you don’t need to be friends with them on social media,” Hough said. “Just because the friend request comes from someone with common friends is no reason to accept the request. You should know them personally.”
Information shared on social media and messaging services can be dangerous as well.
“You never know who you are talking to,” Hough said. “Any bit of info can be used. Just by sharing you are from Alabama and sharing a picture or video with you wearing a Benjamin Russell or Dadeville shirt, they now have enough information to Google you.”
All photographs can be dangerous in the wrong hands according to Hough. He said software is readily available to put a head from one photo on the body of another photo making it look like a person could be in a compromising position.
“Any picture can be morphed or spoofed,” Hough said. “Once you put a picture our there, it’s out there forever. Pictures can be used and sent to millions of people without permission or knowledge.”
Hough said even with a tight circle of friends be careful what you share.
“Think of it like if a brother or sister sees what you are sharing or you see what they are sharing, would you be embarrassed?” Hough asked. “If so, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it.”
Hough said Sheriff Jimmy Abbett has been supportive of education programs in the Tallapoosa County and Alexander City schools.
“He wants kids and parents to be aware through the programs,” Hough said. “We try to get the points across about limiting what is shared.
Hough said parents need to take charge of devices and social media accounts of their children as the environment is not going to change.
“We took a survey of students a couple of years ago,” Hough said. “More than 33% of the students said they have accounts the student’s parents don’t know about or have the passwords to. That is dangerous. The internet is here; it’s not going away.”
Hough said the school programs will encourage the safe use of social media apps and start a conversation about sexting where laws have changed.
“They have tightened them for the safety of kids,” Hough said. “Our goal is to make sure children are safe. We want them to not only be aware of their surroundings but what they post and where.”