Social media has made it easier than ever to share information about yourself online. Platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have completely normalized posting your personal information online for strangers to see, which presents a variety of safety risks for internet users. Among these risks are digital identity theft, photo manipulation, deepfakes, and cyberbullying. However, the potential dangers extend past the screen. Using data gathered online, strangers may be able to determine your location, allowing them to stalk or harass you in real life.
Most often, children and teens are the victims of these crimes, both online and offline. Even children too young to be on the internet can be impacted if their parents share photos and other personal information on social media. For this reason, parents need to be aware of the potential risks of online information sharing.
The Dangers of Online Sharing
Recent technology advancements have allowed for the production of higher-quality AI deepfakes than ever before. Unfortunately, this has made it easier for people to steal photos and videos from children and non-consenting adults online to create deepfakes, often of sexually explicit content. According to a 2023 report from the FBI, this sexually explicit content is often used to extort victims, either for money or sexual content. Cybercriminals will threaten to send manipulated images to the victims’ friends or family members if they don’t comply with the criminals’ requests.
In some cases, criminals may even use these threats to lure children into face-to-face meetings to sexually assault them (SMVLC, 2023). Considering over 80 percent of child sex crimes began on social media, this issue is incredibly common (Lazic, 2023). Thus, parents should practice extreme caution when posting about their children online or allowing them to use the internet themselves.
In the U.S., approximately 13.5 million people are stalked in one year. Stalking may include following or watching the victim, approaching the victim without their consent, using technology to spy on or track the victim, and more (Smith et al., 2022).
Child predators search the internet to find images of children wearing identifying clothing such as school uniforms so that they can follow or make contact with them in real life (Lane, 2022). However, even with less obvious clues, some stalkers can determine your child’s location simply by studying your social media posts.
In 2018, a man was arrested in California for breaking into a 13-year-old girl’s bedroom; he had determined her address by observing her Instagram posts (Chandler, 2019). Additionally, in 2021, police arrested a man for stalking and taking photos of young girls; the man was also discovered to be distributing sexually explicit content involving young children (Child Rescue Coalition, 2021).
In 2020, the FBI put out a public service announcement warning the public that child abductors were using social media to lure their victims into in-person meetings. The announcement cited several examples of this strategy, including the case of a 13-year-old girl abducted by a 21-year-old man, who attempted to take her over the Mexico–United States border.
The abductor was stopped by Customs and Border Protection officers, who arrested him for aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault. After being rescued, the victim revealed that she had met the man online and believed him to be a friend (American Hospital Association, 2020). Even if your children aren’t on social media, the information you post about them online can help predators locate your child, possibly leading to real-life abductions (Lane, 2022).
How to Keep Your Family Safe
As crimes allowed by online information sharing continue to rise, here are a few online safety tips the FBI has recommended to guide your internet usage:
Be wary of what you post online
Always think twice before posting photos, videos, or any personal information online, especially if it involves children. Once you share something online, it’s hard to completely remove it from the internet, especially if it’s downloaded or reshared by others. Criminals may be able to access, distribute, and manipulate your content, so exercise great caution when posting online (FBI, 2023).
Limit who can access your account
Most social media platforms offer privacy settings that allow you to limit who has access to your posts. For example, when you set your account to private on Instagram, only approved followers can view your posts. Take note and make use of the various privacy protections each platform provides to prevent strangers from accessing your content (FBI, 2023).
Run online searches for your information
Conducting regular searches of your family’s personal information online — including full legal names, home addresses, phone numbers, etc. — allows you to stay aware of where this information is being shared. By doing so, you can identify the spread of your family’s personal information online to determine if this information is being shared or manipulated without your permission (FBI, 2023).
Use ImageShield to be aware of when your child’s information is being misused
Online information theft is becoming a bigger issue every day, but many people don’t even realize when it’s happening to them. The earlier you know that your information is being misused, the quicker you can take action. With ImageShield, a photo monitoring service that helps people track the photos they share online, you can find out whether the photos you’ve shared on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere are being misused.
Get your free ImageShield report today on the security of the photos you’ve shared on Facebook and Instagram. Visit our blogs for more information on media literacy and how to protect yourself and your family from photo abuse.
Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/lonely-girl-sitting-on-a-doorway-236215/