Protecting children from the dark side of the internet

As schools move to e-learning, FBI warns that predators may target kids online
Posted at 4:07 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 18:29:22-05

(WSYM) — With names like TikTok, WeChat and Instagram, you might think social media is brand new. However, it's quite the contrary.
Social media has been around for more than 40 years with Use-Net first appearing in 1979. Now, more than 30 years later, it took off like a rocket when Facebook appeared in 2006.

But in 2021, after the Capitol riot, misinformation has gone wild and people are getting blocked from sites. So how do you navigate social media? Well, you better know the rules of the social networking game.

Today, 3 billion people use social media. Facebook is on top with 2.6 billion monthly active users. YouTube is close behind at 2 billion, while WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram and TikTok follow.

You can sell a product, search for information or simply express your opinion. For young people navigating the digital world, it's like riding a bike.

"It's great for looking things up and I guess meeting people," said Natasha Roth, a ninth-grader at Walled Lake Central. But when it comes to social media she is closely monitored by her parents.

Joanne Roth, Natasha's mother, went through social media training.

"There are predators that hang out in chat rooms pretending to be children and you know a kid doesn't always know some warning signs that that sort of thing is going on," she said. "And when they think they are talking to another young child they are not always as careful."

Tatonya Jordan with the online safety company Bark Technologies is concerned about hate speech and calls out violence that can be on social media sites like Parler. Jordan says kids won't likely be lured to that site because their parents are there.

"These organizations and these people spreading information and don't have the best reasons in mind to contact children will be going to places like Tik Tok, where the kids are," Jordan said.

And kids are easily influenced. A 7-year Standford study determined 80 percent of middle school students could not tell the difference between an ad or a news story on the internet.

It's important to note that adults can fall prey too.

Hundreds who attended the rally turned insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C were lured there by social media, but their posts afterward left many under arrest – and jobless.

"Don't put something out there that you're going to regret," said Micah Sanders. He said that's number one when it comes to social media.

Sanders is a lead marketing associate with the nonprofit 4AcceleratedKids, where he teaches young people about computer technology and social media safety.

"There have been people who have committed, and young kids now that I've seen who have committed suicide," he said.

Sanders says kids have to know what's real, from family love not fake likes on Instagram and Twitter.

So here are some tips for social media safety:

  • Monitor your children
  • Talk to them about the danger signs and what should be posted and what should not. Also, talk to them about who is it safe to "friend" in a chat room.
  • For adults, the internet is forever. When in doubt, leave it out and don't post.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.