Social Media has been a positive force for youth. It lets them express themselves, helps them overcome social isolation and it gives them the ability to influence the world without the freedom granted by adulthood. There is a darker side to social media as well. The most evident in recent years has been cyber bullying, but it’s not the only issue.
There have been three recent rape allegations connected the service Skout. In response, the company has decided to suspend the teen branch of their service. Teens who are avid users of the service are moving against the shutdown. The teens believe that the shutdown won’t help anything. Teens will simply lie about their age and use the adult service, and they correctly assert that there are creeps on Facebook too.
Facebook is choosing to take a different path. They acknowledge the fact that minors will use their site regardless. In fact, 38% of minors using Facebook are under the required age of registration, 13. So Facebook’ is working to create a version for their site for minors. It is a version that gives them unique privacy setting and controls. You can find more on that, and why people feel Facebook isn’t doing it out of pure altruism here.
Many of those creeps use the same method that they did on Skout on Facebook and other sites. Predators who target teens and children using social media frequently lie about their age in their profiles, and they use pictures of themselves or others as teens as profile pictures. They don’t just say they are teens in a chat room, they build profiles around a teenage identity. They earn the trust of teens. They set up a meeting, and then they commit their crime.
This has happened many times. It has happened across the county. It happened on Long Island where I live in January. It is not that difficult to imagine it happening, but it is difficult to dream up an effective solution overnight.’ The solutions being proposed right now include restricting teen access, creating an automated system that’ the scours the net for child porn and prostitution, and new laws governing access/possible capabilities of social media. The effectiveness of this shotgun will likely save some, but the implementation must be closely watched. There is a fine line between protecting teens and silencing them.
The bottom line is banning teens from social media won’t help. Predators, rapists and molesters have and will always exist. Facebook may even help bring them to justice, or it could at very least provide people an avenue for closure. What does help? Have the conversations daily, and whenever possible. They may get sick of hearing it from you, but that is okay. We can’t eliminate rape, as much as we want to. But maybe we can empower teens to protect themselves.