Surely this new friend is your soulmate. Miraculously, you share the same interests and concerns; this person seems to really understand who you are. The online photo shows someone attractive, sweet-looking really. What could be the harm in meeting up?
In a program on social networking at East Hampton High School on Monday, a guest speaker, Sal Lifrieri, explained how in many cases online, the people “that you are falling in lust with are not necessarily real,” whether you’re a kid or an adult using social media. Stalkers can create ghost profiles using other people’s photos, even Photoshop pieces of them, and profess to have interests and attributes tailored exactly to what their victims would like to hear.
How do they know what you’d like to hear? Whenever you post photos, profiles and conversations—and whenever a friend does it for you, with or without your consent—that information becomes available to the public at large, according to Mr. Lifrieri, the president of Protective Countermeasures and Consulting, Inc., and former director of security and intelligence operations for New York City’s Office of Emergency Management during the Giuliani administration. It’s essentially impossible to erase what’s been posted online, and the people who most want to find out about you, whether they’re criminals or employers and university administrators, will most likely be able to do so. The latter look in particular for what he called “long-term patterns and practice,” such as party photos posted over an extended period of time, although, in the case of Michael Phelps, the retired Olympic swimmer, just one photo of him with a water pipe wiped out about $60 million in sponsorships, according to Mr. Lifrieri.
Kids have an online identity that in many cases begins even before birth, when their parents post sonograms online, and that continues through school plays and beyond. Mr. Lifrieri said photos dating back 10, 15 years can still be found online, and that people can even use them to create fake profiles without the subject’s knowledge. Mr. Lifrieri talked about one profile he was able to piece together from a woman’s tweets alone: what time she went to the gym, where her favorite Starbucks was, her overall schedule and whereabouts.
“I’m not going to tell you don’t do it,” Mr. Lifrieri said to about 10 teenagers and 20 adults in the audience about using social media, “just be careful.”
“You could become a victim by someone else’s friends of friends,” he said, adding that sometimes kids compete to see who can have the most online friends and that “friending” strangers can create “a major problem.”
Girls as young as 13 or 14 years old have been known to “sext” inappropriate photos of themselves to boys only a few years older. Even if they’re unsolicited, Mr. Lifrieri said, mere possession can mean a charge of child pornography, or one for distribution of such pornography if they are passed along to friends.
New York ranks third in the country in reported instances of cyberbullying, said Mr. Lifrieri, who added that 42 percent of children report being victimized and 35 percent report having been threatened. The days of one-on-one schoolyard bullying have been eclipsed by a climate in which “a kid can sit at home and cyberbully hundreds of kids,” he said. Mr. Lifrieri showed a short video about a teenager who joined his friends in sharing a list of girls they rated in appearance, not realizing how widely it was being circulated and how many girls it was hurting—or that his little sister was one of them.
Mr. Lifrieri warned parents that keeping the computer in the living room, where its use by teenagers can be monitored, doesn’t solve problems of internet abuse in these days of handheld personal devices. He pretty much shrugged off spyware and becoming Facebook friends with one’s children as well, as young people usually know more about outfoxing technology than their parents do.
“The only way is to actually sit down and have a conversation with the kid,” Mr. Lifrieri said. According to a handout from www.cyberbullying.us, some signs that a child is being cyberbullied are if he or she unexpectedly stops using a computer or cellphone, appears nervous when a text message or email arrives, seems uneasy about going to school or outside, appears upset after using the computer, or becomes unusually withdrawn. Mr. Lifrieri advised against strategies of “toughening up,” punishing or removing internet access for the victim, and said victims should keep records of texts, emails and any correspondence that could be used to build a case in the future. He advised teens not to keep silent about cyberbullying, not add fuel to the fire by responding to it or engaging in it themselves, and to say “Stop!” so that what whatever correspondence follows can then be used as evidence.