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Monitoring your kids on Facebook? That’s so 2009.
Instagram is considered tame as long as kids adjust their privacy settings to limit who can see their photos and don’t post nudity, which could subject them to child pornography laws. But Levey said many parents don’t know their kids are using Instagram until there’s trouble - usually when kids post inappropriate photos at parties and these begin to circulate among their social circles.
Parents often hand their kids a mobile device without understanding exactly what it can do, said Dale Harkness, a technology director at Richmond-Burton Community High School in Richmond, Ill. He estimates that even without using social media services, the average high school student probably transmits some 150 texts a day.
“It’s not anything that every parent and grandparent hasn’t already seen,” Harkness said. The problem, he adds, is that actions “get documented, replayed and sent around.” He said that students “forget how fast it moves and how far it goes.”
That was the case at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, N.J., where a male student allegedly took a screenshot of nude pictures sent to him by female classmates via Snapchat, then posted the pictures on Instagram. According to a letter to parents by the school district’s superintendent that was later posted online, police warned students to delete any downloaded pictures or face criminal charges under child pornography laws.
In the Ohio rape case involving two football players, social media both added to the humiliation of the victim and helped prove her case. The defendants and their friends had recorded the attack and later joked about it on a video. The case didn’t come to light until the girl read text messages among friends and saw a photo of herself naked.
There are general security concerns, too. F-Secure, a cybersecurity company, said some new social networking services have become targets for spreading malicious hacker software and propagating scams.
In January, the FBI arrested a man in Los Angeles, Karen “Gary” Kazaryan, 27, of Glendale, Calif., on charges that he hacked into hundreds of social media and email accounts, including Facebook and Skype, and found nude photos and personal passwords that women had stored online. He allegedly used the photos to try to coerce women into disrobing for him via Skype and threatened to post their private photos to their Facebook accounts if they refused to comply, according to the indictment.
Online services also routinely collect personal data, such as a person’s birthdate or the location of their phone, and they commonly share the information with third parties for marketing. While a new rule by the Federal Trade Commission this year is aimed at keeping advertisers from tracking kids younger than 13, most social media services require that a user specify he is at least 13, exempting the account from the tougher privacy restrictions.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-chairman of a House caucus on privacy issues, said legislation should give kids under 15 the right to delete photos or texts that wind up elsewhere online. The prospect, however, is unlikely in a Congress dominated by debates on federal spending and gun control, and raises practical questions about how such a law could be implemented or enforced.
“Nobody should be penalized for something they posted when they were 9 years old,” Markey said.
Levey links her kids’ devices to her iTunes account so she’s aware of programs they install. She also requires that her kids make their accounts accessible to her and follow certain ground rules: protect your passwords, set privacy controls and never transmit inappropriate pictures or words.
A big hurdle for parents is overcoming the idea they are invading their kids’ privacy by monitoring online activity, she said. In fact, she said, it can be the kid’s first lesson that hardly anything online is private, anyway.
“If they want privacy,” she said, “they should write in a journal and hide it under their mattress.”
Follow Anne Flaherty on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty.
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