SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Social media is a great way to stay connected with friends and family. However, there are potential dangers when children and teens use these sites and apps.
According to a study released in 2015 from the pew research center more than 90 percent of teens spend time online each day. Among the most common apps kids and teens use are Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
“Social media can be a very scary thing, especially as a mom worried about protecting your children because you don’t know who’s on the other end,” says Breanne Morris, whose children use Instagram.
Experts warn social media users that not everyone online is who they seem. There are hidden followers on social media. Hidden followers are profiles that appear to be real people, but are often actually purchased bot accounts, or are people pretending to be someone else.
Michelle Busch-Upwall is the Education Specialist for the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, task force.
“Ghost followers, or fake followers, that’s what we’re concerned with on kid’s accounts,” says Upwall-Busch.
Between January 1st and August 21 of 2017, ICAC investigated more than 1,000 cases including child exploitation, enticement, obscenity directed toward minors, and child prostitution.
A lot of times on kid’s accounts what happens with predators who are looking to entice kids, teens, whatever online, we see them create fake profiles,” says Upwall-Busch, “…You run into a lot of different problems when you have fake followers, because you don’t know who these people are, or if they’re just ghost followers that you’ve bought who are nobody.”
Busch-Upwall explains that occasionally kids, teens, and adults buy followers in order to increase their social media presence. She says, “It is problematic because unfortunately it gives them access to these kids, all the pictures they’re posting, anything they’re posting…what happens is it opens up these kids lives to people that may be trying to entice them.”
Busch-Upwall says people don’t need to block their children from social media altogether. Instead, there are things parents can do to keep their children safe online. That includes things like making sure to check your children’s privacy settings, looking at their followers and friends, and talking about the risks of being online.
More tips to keep kids safe online include:
-Knowing what apps your kids are using, and what they do
-Befriending them on social media
-Making sure the “don’t-talk-to-strangers” rule applies in the online world
-Checking privacy settings regularly, and changing passwords often
-Establishing boundaries for Internet use