Where there are children on social media, there will be predators.
That is the nutshell of a story about an Illinois father who learned the hard way about letting his 7-year-old daughter roam the dangerous wilds of the social Internet—even with precautions.
From Facebook to Minecraft (on some servers anyway) children are connecting with other children, sharing stories and having fun. Some apps and websites are entirely geared to the underage, making them especially attractive to those with the ugliest intentions.
One of the most popular apps for young women, especially those bold enough to put their faces and dance moves out before the world, is Musical.ly.
The smartphone app has several innovative features that let users, who are mostly young women, make engaging videos lip syncing segments from their favourite songs or anything else they would like to share.
Like virtually all social media these days, the app lets users select how widely to share their content, and how open to make their profiles. For Musical.ly, that option includes making an account public, the default setting, or private, where only approved users can see and interact with the user.
But anyone can pretend to be anyone on the Internet. Emails from hackers posing as co-workers remain one of the most common security breaches used to infect company computers. On social media, profiles of young girls are one of the most popular ways pedophiles get access to children.
“She used this app to connect with her cousins and make goofy duets of songs together,” Brad Summer (who wishes to keep his real name out of the media for concern of his daughter’s privacy) wrote on Facebook. “We have accepted friends of theirs and our daughter believed this was another one. I never thought of someone pretending to be 9 to gain access to my child.”
That other supposed young girl soon asked Summer’s daughter Jessy her age and to send some photos.
Then the stranger made unsettling requests, writing “make some pics without t-shirt.”
“I like to see your body without t-shirt.”
“I can’t,” wrote Jessy.
“make some new pics in bathroom”
The strange persisted, asking Jessy to take pictures of herself “without clothes.”
“My mom said I can’t,” replied Jessy.
“don’t tell anyone,” wrote the stranger.
“it’s secret between us only.”
Fortunately Summer caught on to the exchange and intervened. The dad was not completely blind to the risk of letting his young daughter use the app.
“Our daughter does not have a phone of her own. This app was on one of our phones for use when we were around,” he explained in the post.
But even with those precautions, someone typing broken English asked his daughter for nude pictures.
“This post is meant as a warning call to others that let their children use this app. This post wasn’t meant for people telling me how to raise my child. My child came and told me and it didn’t get any further luckily,” wrote Summer.
“She followed what I taught her. I’m sure that others families aren’t so lucky. The world we live in needs focus on these types of things, say what you will.”
Summer updated his posting to say the detective investigating the incident had found the IP address of the stranger and had submitted a subpoena to the app to freeze all records pertaining to that user.
“They are continuing to make progress!” he wrote.
For parents wanting to better manage how their children use Musical.ly, the app has a section of their website.