By ASHLEY AMASON
South Walton High School hosted Chuck McMullen from the Florida Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday, Oct. 14. McMullen spoke to parents about the dangers technology has afforded through social networking sites, file sharing programs, cell phones, and online video games.
In his presentation, McMullen addressed chat rooms, online games, e-mail, peer2peer programs, and social networking sites, the most worrisome issues with parents being MySpace, Facebook, and Limewire.
In McMullen’s presentation, he noted that children often put too much personal information in their MySpace or Facebook profiles, such as full name, birthdate, school, place of employment, and extracurricular activities. In doing so, children and teens make themselves easy prey for cyber-stalkers and sexual predators. According to statistics McMullen provided, 15 percent of kids 12 and under surf the Internet with no adult supervision, 50 percent of kids 12-15, and 75 percent of 16 year olds.
McMullen noted that social networking sites are not the only risk to kids and teens.
Limewire, a file-sharing program used to download free music, is often inappropriate for children. “Eighty-five percent of the traffic on Limewire is pornography; it is the largest place on the Internet for free porn,” said McMullen, “there is no legal reason for Limewire to be in existence.”
To explain how a music site is the largest vendor of free pornography, McMullen explained pornography sites which have downloaded Limewire can share their files with anyone else who has Limewire. These pornography sites title their videos with the names of songs or artists, so when a user searches a song title or artist name, pornography appears in the results list.
McMullen informed parents that The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children polled 1,501 kids in 1999 and found one in five kids was sexually solicited online, one in four saw pornography, and one in 33 was aggressively solicited or threatened. By 2006, one in seven was sexually solicited online, one in three saw pornography, and one in eleven was aggressively solicited or threatened.
In discussing online video games, parents were surprised to hear McMullen say games like World of Warcraft, Halo, and X-box 360 are often the source of a sexual predator. “Sexual predators go to where the kids are” McMullen stated. These online games allow kids to communicate via headset or chat with other gamers across the country. Predators can communicate with kids and teens, and learn enough information to abduct or seduce them. “World of Warcraft is the most law-enforcement friendly; they keep records of everything, every single chat,” McMullen declared. Additionally, certain cell phone companies keep records of incoming and outgoing text messages, which parents can request.
McMullen warned that parents often miss the signs of a cyber-stalker or cyber-bully. He showed two videos demonstrating how easily a child or teen can fall into a predator’s trap. The first video showed a 13-year-old girl, Julie, who was seduced by a 56-year-old convicted murderer. Julie said she spent three to six hours per day chatting online with the man she called her best friend. He eventually convinced her to run away, but they were apprehended and he was arrested. From prison, he sent her a letter threatening to kill her when he escaped.
The second video told the story of a 14-year-old boy named Ryan. Ryan was a freshman in high school. He, too, spent hours a night online. His parents noticed he didn’t want to participate in school activities and his grades dropped, but they were unaware as to why. One morning, Ryan’s parents awoke to find he had hanged himself from the shower curtain. Later, after searching Ryan’s computer, his parents found files of online chats in which his classmates started a rumor that he was gay and a loser.
Hitting closer to home, last year a 42-year-old Panama City man, attorney Paul Richard Parker Jr, was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for transmitting child pornography and promoting the sexual performance of a child. “Parker enticed young boys over the Internet by pretending to be a teenage girl or boy and persuaded them to perform sexual acts via webcam. Parker would then record these acts and make pornographic videos from them. He also placed additional child pornography videos on the Internet, where they were discovered by an undercover CyberCrime investigator who was able to trace them back to Parker.”
After reviewing these stories, McMullen offered ways to keep kids safe online to a room full of worried parents. He said parents should keep the computer and video games in a central location in your home. Do not let a child set up their computer and input the password. Parents should always be able to access their child’s computer. Monitor what kids are doing. Do not allow them to delete chats or text messages and randomly review them.
Make sure their MySpace and Facebook profiles are set to private and they only accept friend requests from people they know. Do not let a child put personal information in his/her social networking profiles, especially full name, birthdate, school, or address.
Have children add the Child Predator Cycbercrime Unit to their MySpace “top friends” list to deter predators. Go to www.myspace.com/florida_cpcu.
Install software to prevent all file sharing programs, like Limewire, from downloading to the computer. Visit www.consumerreports.com. Explain to children the reason behind these measures, which is to protect the child, not to invade their privacy.
Like the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.