Keeping with our theme of cyber-security month I'd like to talk about the opportunity and dangers associated with social media. I attended over a dozen law enforcement training conferences this year. Social Media was by far the most popular topic with sessions on this subject offered at almost every venue and each session was well attended. The training itself ran the gamut from the dangers for departments, positive uses for departments and using social media as an investigative tool. The one I would like to discuss today is the danger that can be associated with social media and what families can do to reduce that danger.
The social media tool most families will deal with is Facebook.
Facebook provides a great way for family and friends to stay in touch. Post one update or photo, list and event on a calendar and all of your "friends" get to see it. It is fun and convenient and connects people who haven't been connected in years. But, for every positive use there is a negative one.
One concern is infidelity. A recent Study in England found that Facebook was cited in one third of the divorce filings in 2011. Married people reconnecting with old flames, sending inappropriate messages to new ones, virtually flirting, anything they would not do in front of a spouse they may do behind a monitor. As bad as this is at least it is between consenting adults; children can engage in risky behavior as well.
Parents need to be especially careful about minors' activity online. I was the Commanding Officer of the Brooklyn Special Victims Squad back in 1997. Even then we were getting cases of girls being lured to meet a guy they didn't know over the internet and being raped. The use of the internet was a fraction of what it is now and the term "social media" probably hadn't been coined. Today social media is available at teenagers’ fingertips. Dangerous people lurk in cyberspace and we all know how trusting kids can be, how easily mislead or talked into dangerous behavior. They are further emboldened in a virtual world - doing and saying things they would never do in person. This combination of factors can lead to children making bad decisions that can have tragic results. These can range from sending inappropriate photos of themselves to meeting someone who is only a “friend” in cyberspace. Finally there are cases of children being bullied on Facebook. Bullies will seize every opportunity to torment their victims. The exact same dynamics that exist between bullies and their victims in person exist online; only now the bully's reach is extended into the victim's home.
Children and adults can also hurt themselves by building a negative online history. Everything from profane posts to photos of inappropriate behavior to sexting can damage their reputation for years to come and be seen by people the poster never intended. Privacy settings are constantly changing and many people do not take the time to adjust them properly. Even if they do their privacy can be compromised by their” friends”. I was recently able to find a photo of a client's underage daughter in an inappropriate pose holding a beer. The photo wasn't posted by the girl herself but by a "friend". Questionable online behavior can have real world ramifications. College admissions personnel and company HR staff now peruse candidates' social media accounts to find out more about the person they may admit to a university or hire to work for them. 24% of college admissions officers surveyed by Kaplan and 37% of companies surveyed by Career builder.com responded that they checked social media of student and employee candidates. Of the hiring managers who responded that they had not hired someone due to information uncovered in social media 45% said it was due to information regarding the candidates’ drug or alcohol use. 12% of the admissions representatives responded that what they uncovered damaged a student’s chances for admission and alcohol use was listed as one of the leading reasons. (I have written about the potential pitfalls of HR staff conducting these searches themselves on Google+)
There are steps you can take to ensure that Facebook and other social media programs serve you as you want them to and don't act as a tool to victimize you. The first thing that parents should do is keep track of what their children are doing online. Make it a "term of use" in your home that you can inspect their devices anytime without notice. I used to advise parents to keep internet connected computers in a common area of the home. That advice still holds but it isn't as effective with the prevalence of smart phones and tablets. Make sure the account is in a parent's name inform the child that you must have every password and that they are never allowed to delete their history. Then make sure this isn't an idle threat and regularly inspect their devices.
There are specific investigative techniques that can be used to check someone’s social media activity. These steps are unique to the circumstances presented by each case and the relationship between the parties concerned. If you think that social media is being used inappropriately in your home or business or, if you would like to find out what information about you, your family, or your business is available in cyberspace call for a consultation.