FBI encourages safety precautions as use of mobile apps by kids, teens grows

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The internet and smartphones can be amazing resources accessible around the world, but there are also dangers that lurk in the shadows, especially for kids and teens.

Photo Source: Stacey MacNaught / CC BY 2.0 / MGN

Popular mobile applications and social media sites can be powerful points of positivity and connectivity, but if used for bad behavior, they can also pose a threat to youngsters, where online engagement can equate to offline danger.

"Sexual images, things like that," said FBI Special Agent Jolene Goeden. "We've seen it with school shooting threats, and general threats and bullying kids.

"Many of the apps can be anonymous as well," she said, "so a child may not even know where the threat is coming from."

The Pew Research Center released a study in 2015 stating that 92 percent of teens report going online daily, including 24 percent who said they do so “almost constantly.” About three-fourths of teens have or were using a smartphone at that time, according to the report.

A 2018 survey from the same group showed 65 percent of parents worried their teens spend too much time in front of screens, while 61 percent are concerned their child is sharing too much about their life online.

Now, a handful of mobile apps are much more widely known than than others. Social media platforms such as Facebook, which boasts 2.41 billion monthly active users as of June 30, 2019, according to the company, likely come to mind.

Other applications, however, have made their way into the mainstream. Some of them present more potential risks than others.

"Where we see kids is particularly in the social media apps with messaging and texting and video chatting and stuff back and forth," Goeden said. "Adults will get kids to send images of themselves, and progressively try to groom them and get nude images. That's where we typically get involved. And sometimes those cases will turn into a sextortion case, where the adult will get the images, and he uses that against the child to say, 'Continue sending me images, or find friends that will send me images, or else.'"

Consider Ask.fm, which allows users to ask each other questions and is known, according to the FBI, for incidents of cyberbullying; LiveMe, a livestreaming video application which uses geolocation to share the exact whereabouts of users; or Whisper, an anonymous social media app in which people share secrets with strangers and can share users' location information.

"It's a very different generation in terms of how I use social media versus how a teenage or a pre-teen is going to be using social media," Goeden said.

A neat graphic published by the Sarasota Country Sheriff's Office, out of Florida, is available here.

The FBI has lots of suggestions for helping keep yourself and your kids safe while using apps and the internet, such as reporting inappropriate activity and encouraging safe practices online, but most of it boils down to one overarching theme: Monitor use, and be aware and involved as you can.

FBI suggestions for keeping kids safe on social media:

- Monitor use of the internet; consider keeping computer in a common room
- Tell kids why it’s so important not to disclose personal information online
- Check your kids’ profiles and what they post
- Read (and follow) safety tips provided on sites
- Report inappropriate activity to the website or law enforcement immediately
- Explain to your kids that once images are posted online, you can never take them back
- Only allow kids to post photos or personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent
- Instruct kids to use privacy settings and to restrict access to profiles
- Remind kids to only add people they know in real life to contact lists
- Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names and nicknames
- Talk to your kids about creating strong passwords.
- Visit social networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites
-Consistently ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online
- Make it a rule that your kids can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent (if you agree to a meeting, talk to the parents/guardians of the other individual first and accompany your kids to the meeting in a public place)
- Encourage kids to consider whether a message is harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude before posting or sending it online
-Teach kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you the messages instead
- Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps that your child uses

More information can be found at the FBI scams and safety website. Additional support for incidents of cyberbullying can be found on the federal website.

Here is the link to the FBI's Safe Online Surfing Internet Challenge.

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