I think social networking is cool; never in the history of human kind have we been so connected with one another as we are today all because of this thing called social networking. With this connectivity, we have created a digital global community in which we have become active digital citizens. With social networking however, has come a digital byproduct that psychologists call the “disinhibition effect,” which basically means that we are more likely to share and do things online that we would not normally do face-to-face in the real world. One of these digital byproducts is the sharing of too much information about ourselves with others online.
As an internet and social media safety advocate, one of the things that I do before I present at a school is to “creep” the student population weeks before I actually present. Using a variety of social engineering techniques, more often than not, I usually get “friended” by students believing that I am a 15yr old girl. Once friended, I now have full access to their social networks and the information contained therein.
Given that Facebook is the largest social networks that our youth participate in, it is not surprising that the disinhibition effect has taken on a whole new meaning that we as parents, and our children, should be informed and concerned about in this specific social network. Often I will hear students share with me that they believe that their private information posted and shared in Facebook is protected, because their privacy settings have been set to high. It is shocking to these same students when I show them how easy it is for a creeper to socially engineer their way around these privacy settings. The message: everything we do online, no matter what our privacy settings, should be considered PUBLIC, PERMANENT, and SEARCHABLE by everyone and anyone.
When I creep and socially engineer students, and get invited in as a “friend,” one of the first places that I go to “screen scrape” or “harvest” information is the student’s profile or information page. More often than not here’s the information that I am able to “harvest” about your kids:
- First and last names
- Date of birth
- Home address
- Home phone number
- School attending
- Personal email address
- Family tree
- Skype name
- Cellphone numbers
- Likes and dislikes
As you can imagine, the above noted information is a digital goldmine that a predator could use for the purpose of tracking the student, sexual predation in all its forms, identity theft or other criminality. Remember that the keystone for the sexual predator or cyber criminal is to build rapport, the more you trust me the more likely you are to share your most private thoughts with me, or want to meet me face-to-face. What better way to do this than learning everything there is to know about a target via their social network to build that needed rapport.
To really hit this message home to the schools that I present to, not only do I disclose that I have “creeped” the school’s student population (where a large percentage of students will have invited me in as a “friend” believing I was a 15-year-old female), but I also disclose the fact that I have texted several of these same students 24 hours before my presentation via their cellphones. More often than not, I am able to carry out an uninhibited texting conversation with the targeted students. In fact, it is not unusual to be asked out on a date by some of these same students. Where did I get their cell number? I got it from their info page where they themselves voluntarily posted it.
So what can we as parents do?
- Talk with your kids about the dangers of sharing too much information (TMI) in their social networks
2. Talk with your kids and help them understand that no matter what their privacy settings, everything they post should always be considered PUBLIC, PERMANENT, and SEARCHABLE.
3. Talk with your kids and help them understand that sometimes people are not necessarily who they say they are, and unless they have met the person face-to-face, do not “friend” them into their social networks.
4. Co-operatively sit down with your child and have a look at the social networks that they participate in. Have a look at their “profiles” and “info” pages to ensure that they are not posting TMI.
Digital Food For Thought