From the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office:
LAKE CHARLES, LA - During the past five years the use of social networking web sites has become a part of everyday life for many people including children. Sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter allow people to form online communities where they can create networks of people with similar interests to more easily communicate and share information with others.
According to a recent study, 87% of children between 12 and 17 years of age use the internet. Of those, 55% use social networking sites and almost half of them visit social networking sites once a day or more. Unfortunately, these same sites have also become havens for child predators.
This past February, MySpace reported that during a two year time period they have turned over the names of 90,000 sex offenders banned from its site. In March, Facebook reported that they have removed 5,500 sex offenders from their site during a nine month time period.
"The real danger lies in the fact that children are sometimes naïve to the fact that everything they post online becomes public information, and that the person they connect with online isn't always who they say they are," said Sheriff Mancuso.
"This is the dark side of social networking," says Sheriff Mancuso. "Along with favorite bands and best friends, kids are posting phone numbers, class schedules, and other personal information that makes them vulnerable to anyone who wants to track them down."
Last year new security standards were set by both MySpace and Facebook in an attempt to further protect minors from sexual predators. Some of the changes include banning convicted sex offenders from the site, putting limits on older users' ability to search profiles of members under 18, and finding better ways to verify users' ages and identities.
Even with these protective measures, your child's best protection is you. As a parent you can help your child navigate through the internet safely, so that they can benefit from the wealth of information available to them online.
Sheriff Mancuso offers the following tips to prevent cyber predators from entering your lives:
- Children and teenagers should be supervised at all times when surfing the Internet. Put your computer in an open area where you can see what they are doing online.
- Spend time online with your child and establish ground rules for his or her internet use.
- Keep an open line of communication with them and talk to them about the issue of cyber crime. They need to understand the dangers, but they also need to trust you enough to tell you what is going on, or if something makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Block and report anyone that sends you unwanted or inappropriate communications.
- Help your kids understand what information should be kept private. For example, phone number, address or pictures showing specific whereabouts.
- Remember people aren't always who they say they are.
- Kids should never arrange to meet anyone they meet online, no matter what.
- Tell your child not to share his or her password with anyone except a parent.
- If you are not already, become computer literate yourself. Learn how to block objectionable material and check your child's history if necessary.
- Understand privacy settings and use them to restrict who can access and post to your child's Web site.