The news headlines are filled with reports of hacking, data breaches, cybercrimes, and identity theft, and it feels like criminals find new ways to take advantage of any flaws in our technology every day. But there is a way to leverage how technology works, specifically social media accounts, in order to help protect your loved ones.

With the advent of social media and the abundance of platforms that let users semi-anonymously connect with strangers, parents have become very concerned about their children’s online activity. There is an increasing awareness of so-called cyberbullying, for example, or incidents that occur when a user is targeted by others through social media. There are also valid concerns about inappropriate content being shared, or that individuals with harmful motives may prey on children who use the internet.

A note on cyberbullying and online predators: too often, the victims don’t speak up for fear that reporting it to parents or school officials will just make it escalate. They feel powerless to stop something that is already spreading across the internet and are afraid that adult intervention will make it worse. Sadly, victims of cyberbullying have even resorted to suicide, and in some cases, their parents didn’t even know there was a problem. Only after that fact have outsiders told the parents what was happening, and even shown the parents some of the horrible posts on social media that targeted their children. Cases like that of Megan Meier have brought national attention to a situation that many parents were unaware of.

Now, app developers are introducing new tools that can help parents protect their children while still giving them the space to use social media platforms. These apps, many of which function by sending the parents text messages or alerts whenever certain keywords appear on their kids’ social media pages, can help parents feel like they’re intervening to prevent problems before they arise.

Keyword alerts can let parents know if their children are sending or receiving messages through texting or through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others that contain pre-determined words or phrases. These keywords can include racial slurs, sexual terms or innuendoes, profanity, or more. The apps often allow parents to set up blocks based on categories and by age of the child in question. These alerts then let parents know—in order to erase or block—messages that are either in print or image form. Some of the apps require the parents to know their children’s social media user names and passwords in order to quietly monitor their children’s activity, while others are designed for the parents to work with their kids to setup master lists, categories, and controls.

Critics of this type of app have stated that this amounts to nothing more than spying, which is something we as adults would never tolerate if we were the ones being watched. And ideally, there should be open communication and awareness of internet use and strict adherence to family rules about how these platforms will be used. But for parents who have reason to need this type of safeguard to protect their children’s physical safety, there are tools available through most mobile app stores.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3

 

 

 

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