Social networking actually existed before Twitter and Facebook. Online communities began building in the late 1990s and it wasn’t until around 2005 when social networking exploded with MySpace, Facebook and later Twitter. Although these online social communities have many positive attributes, there is one major negative attribute that all these sites have in common: Social networking abuse.

How Social Media Abuse Occurs…

There is nothing too technical about how people go about abusing others on social networks. It’s actually very simple: People lie. There are, of course, more complicated technical ways such as hacking into user accounts, accessing e-mail address books and finding and posting fake pictures so the abuser appears as someone he or she is actually not. Regardless, abuse happens when people lie and unfortunately, it is becoming more common as social networking sites begin to grow.

Here is the most common scenario for social media & social network predators:

  • The predator opens an account using a fake name and birth date.
  • The predator will post a picture of someone else, usually a picture of someone around the same age of the predators “target group.”
  • The predator then is open to troll around the social networking websites as, for example, a 16-year-old girl when really the predator is a 42-year-old pedophile.

The Statistics

  • A study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in seven children aged 10 to 17 were victims of an online sexual solicitation.
  • In that same study, one-third of the children in this age group received what is called “aggressive sexual solicitation”. This means the predator asked to physically meet them, corresponded with them through regular mail (meaning the child gave the predator his or her home address) and/or received gifts.

How to protect yourself from Social Media Abuse & Cyber Bullying

  • Never engage– Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mail or friend requests. There is no way of knowing who is asking to be your friend. Yes, it could be someone you know, but it also could be a predator. Don’t take the risk, simply do not engage.
  • Make your account private– Only the people you choose will be on your friends list.
  • Block users– If cyber bullying is occurring through e-mail, block the user’s address.
  • Never give out personal information– This includes real name, home address, phone number and age.
  • Report unwanted sexual solicitations– Sexual solicitations must be reported to your local authorities. If you plan on doing so, be sure to keep a copy of whatever the predator has been sending you.
  • Report cyber bullying– Contact LifeLineSA on 0800 150 150 to talk to someone or to find out more

There is no sure fire way to stay 100 percent safe on the Internet. The only things a user and parent can do is stay aware and alert of predators and cyber bullies.

A note to parents and guardians…

Here are some things that you can do to help keep siblings, children and others safe online.

  • Monitor computer usage– This becomes more difficult as children grow into teenagers. Having an open and honest dialogue with your teen-aged children will help them understand your concerns and worries.
  • Use parental locks– Each computer operating system is a little different, explore yours and get to know how to properly use locks and limits.
  • E-mail forwarding– Have your young child’s e-mail forwarded to your e-mail, while keeping a copy locally in his or her account.