The phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words," is a memorable quote. It refers to conveying a grander idea with one simple image. In today's world of social networks, we all seem to have forgotten this basic concept.
Kids and teens tend to post hundreds or thousands of photos of themselves online. In fact, Facebook gets about 350 million new images posted each day. The total number of photos on Facebook servers is upward of 240 billion now.
Until recently, an image of your child found on a social network would not likely end up being used inappropriately, let alone stored on a child pornographer's computer. However, times have changed.
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and others have changed the rules of the pornographer's game. These sites now offer powerful tools for pedophiles trading in child pornography images and videos or for perverts looking to enhance their virtual sex life.
Examples to sicken the mind
First, let’s start with an app designed to help Facebook users more easily “stalk” friends’ profiles for inappropriate pictures. The iPhone app Badabing identifies the shape of a bikini in the photos of up to five friends at a time. It then compiles the photos into a list that can be “liked,” bookmarked, and shared.
Anyone can use this type of app, including men looking for pictures of underage girls. But the image is just the beginning — a child pornographer doesn't stop with an image. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice says:
“It is common for producers of child pornography to groom victims or cultivate a relationship with a child and gradually sexualize the contact over time. The grooming process fosters a false sense of trust and authority over a child in order to desensitize or break down a child’s resistance to sexual abuse.”
In essence, the purpose in finding the provocative photo is to develop a virtual relationship. The sexual predator's goal is to "friend," groom, meet, victimize, and capture the assault on film. And predators can be very persuasive.
Another example: Sexual predators have capitalized on the allure of video chat sites. Have you ever heard of a “capper?” It’s a term used to describe sexual predators that take screenshots or screen captures (screencaps) after coercing a teen into doing something inappropriate on camera. Video chat sites like TinyChat, BlogTV, and Stickam are among a few of the sites where a sexual predator can lurk.
Cappers join these sites and groom teens to develop a friendship, and many intend to nurture the relationship into a face-to-face meeting. And the screen-captured images, if inappropriate, could certainly become part of the child pornographer’s library.
Last example: Two pornography web sites now take advantage of facial-recognition technology, which can motivate porn-seeking customers to upload photos of people they know in order to find them, or their lookalikes, online.
One of these sites encourages people to find random images of girls on Instagram or other photo-sharing sites to try to match them to images in their databases. The goal is to bridge the gap between consumers’ needs and the product in stock. Thus, a child's photo could quickly become the image in a sexual deviant's fantasy.
Let's clarify something: Pornography is essentially legal. But child pornography is not. Child pornography includes images involving sexual activity or assault on children under the age of 18.
Therefore, the images on "child porn" sites include those involving children. Child pornographers are notorious for finding and hoarding images, even hundreds of thousands of them; they tend to trade images and/or videos with others. They also tend to find each other on social media sites.
What to do?
As parents, we must be aware that if our child posts a provocative or nude photo on a social network, it could easily be copied and saved by anyone. There are child pornographers on Facebook and other social media sites looking for graphic images all the time.
One challenge associated with our current societal behavior of uploading any and all pictures is that they have a very long shelf life. They can remain online for years.
Kids don't tend to think long term. They post photos and information without regard for propriety or longevity. New social networks are emerging all the time, including those with images as the primary medium, such as Instagram, Flickr, or Voto. Others showcase video as the main medium, like Vine or YouTube. Some focus on texting images, such as SnapChat.
Here are a few suggestions on how to keep kids and their photos safer:
1. Increase the privacy setting of the child's social network profile to only let friends (or friends of friends) see personal details, including photos
2. Limit who can send messages to your child in a social network — don't let just anyone have access (grooming begins with access)
3. Only use an appropriate profile photo, if any — inappropriate photos can get the wrong attention
4. Remove all inappropriate photos from public view
5. Take control of who can tag your child in photos and only allow responsible friends to do so
6. Filter your child's network of friends by setting up different lists with different privacy settings
7. Talk to kids about the dos and don'ts of posting photos online
8. Finally, don't post birth dates, full names, home address, phone number, school name, pets’ names, or siblings’ names
Parents need to take time to understand the complex, virtual world in which we live. Don't let others teach your child (the hard way) about such technologies.