By Dr. Free N. Hess

WARNING: There are graphic photos following this article. They are included so that parents can become aware of what our children are viewing and experiencing on the social media apps they are using. All photos included have been taken by me directly from within the many apps I research for PediMom. All photos are taken from public accounts that our children have access to and they are included solely to educate the public, mainly parents, about what our children are being exposed to.

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I am angry.

For about 6 months now I’ve been researching many of the apps that are most popular with our children: Snapchat, Instagram, LiveMe, TikTok, YouNow, Whisper, Twitch, Roblox, and plenty of others. I register for them using the youngest age allowed for each individual platform (usually 13 years old, but sometimes younger). I then use these apps in the same way our children use them, so I get to see what they see and hear what they hear. I watch them.

I am angry.

I watch as young girls are approached by anonymous predators asking them to perform sexually explicit acts live on camera for anyone from anywhere in the world to see.

I watch as these predators offer likes, virtual gifts (some of which can be exchanged for actual currency), and the “promise” of fame in exchange for photos, videos, or private chats with the intent to convince them to do even more.

I watch as these predators invite more of their disgusting “friends” into the live stream when they think they have a vulnerable child who will be easily convinced (i.e. tricked) into doing what they ask.

I watch as these predators ask the youngest of girls to dance seductively saying “you are such an amazing dancer” or to do handstands and cartwheels saying “you’re such a fantastic gymnast” hoping that their shirts will not stay in place giving them a peek at what is underneath.

I watch as these predators ask these girls to lift their shirts, stick their tongues out, pull down their pants, open their legs, touch themselves, or even to use the video controller they are holding while playing a game on a live stream as a vibrator…and these are the less explicit of the requests I see.

I watch as these predators use misspelled or alternate terms for these requests to avoid being flagged within the app. They know all sorts of tricks.

I watch as these children are bullied and insulted if they refuse to do as these predators request. They are called boring, chicken, loser, baby, ugly, fat, stupid, a waste of time because they are not willing to comply.

I watch as some of these girls do as they are asked because the attention, likes, increasing number of followers, and the desire to be noticed is too strong to resist.

I see the photos glorifying and promoting self-harm like cutting, burning, anorexia, and bulimia.

I see the posts encouraging our children to attempt suicide and I cringe when they give pointers on how to assure that they “complete” the act.

I watch as these people form underground societies with ever-changing hashtags so that they can continue to damage our children without being flagged or blocked by people like me who seek them out and attempt to have their account removed.

I am angry.

I report every inappropriate comment, user, photo, and video that I come across and I watch as nothing is done.

I try to type faster than the predators hoping these girls will heed my warnings and protect themselves and I watch as my comments are buried in the constant and overwhelming comments of those I’m trying to warn them about.

I email the app developers and I wait, and wait, and wait. Nothing.

I am angry.

You should be angry too.

The developers of these apps need to be doing more. They need to be held accountable for the dangerous and life-changing situations our children are placed in when using these apps.

We need to make them listen.

We need to be loud and clear that they must #ProtectOurKids.

And that #ParentsDemandAction.

Help me make them listen. Help me hold them accountable. Help me help our kids.

HELP ME START A MOVEMENT THAT THEY CAN’T IGNORE!!!

Post everywhere you can with the hashtags #ProtectOurKids and #ParentsDemandAction and tag as many of the apps as possible.

If we’re loud enough they will listen.

Our kids lives depend on it!

 

Use the arrow arrows to scroll through the screenshots:

6 COMMENTS

  1. Yes the developers need to do more. But they can’t do everything necessary to keep 100% of predators off their sites. It’s simply impossible to stop it all before it happens.

    Parents should not trust that the internet is safe, even if they themselves grew up with it. (An unintended side effect of sites like MySpace and Facebook encouraging us to trust their sites enough to give them our personal information.) No matter what anyone says, children should not be allowed online unsupervised until they are able to deal with these threats in ways that keep themselves safe, and to handle it psychologically.

    Predatory behavior should never be excused. But trusting any website to protect your child will never be enough. Parents need to be smart and get educated, too.

    • I agree parents need to educate themselves and do their part to keep their children safe but that does not negate the importance of holding app developers accountable for the part they play in harming our children. We expect car seat manufacturers, toy manufacturers, ect., to take responsibility for their products and most parents wouldn’t hesitate to hold them accountable if they harmed a child. Social media apps should be no different.

      • That’s taking it a bit far. Car seat manufacturers are developed FOR the safety of our children. These apps aren’t developed for that reason at all and perhaps that is what we should be looking into. If it’s YT Kids then they are developed in part for your child being in a “safe” area.

        One post got my attention; A clip of a man telling children how to commit suicide and the message being hidden inside a kid’s video on YT Kids. This must be addressed. The rest of these social media apps where you see kids playing Xbox online and pedophiles have made it into the room, that’s different. Parents should be monitoring their children while they are streaming. There’s NO WAY I would allow my daughter to go online and do these things. No way. I was a victim of molestation in person so I completely understand the dangers and I explain them to my children so they don’t fall victim to them.

        • I appreciate your thoughts but I disagree that it’s “taking it a bit far”. This is something that needs to be tackled from ALL angles. The dangers run much deeper than most parents realize and simply explaining the risks and dangers to children does not guarantee that they will not become a victim. The child of a parent that thinks “not my kid” is still at risk, some might argue they are at even higher risk. I know a significant amount about this topic given what I do and I would NEVER assume that my child would never fall victim. This is why I I’m so passionate about this topic.

  2. Thank you for this. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been talking to parents since 2012 about the concerns of kids on connected devices. Parents need to be up-to-date on anything they are going to have their kids use. You have to know how to drive a car to teach a kiddo how to drive a car. The internet is not an easy thing to manage, but we as digital parents have to step up and help our kids use the technology responsibly and to know what exactly we are putting in their hands when we give them a connected device. If you would like to see my mission, it’s at http://www.shapethesky.org

  3. As an app developer and site administrator I can assure you it isn’t that easy. Most of the time we have NSFW filters defaulted but users can lie and change there age and disable this with ease. Furthermore being able to control a user base that is in the 8 to 9 digit range is essentially impossible. Even with our AI that sifts through the sites content there is only so much we can do. You see sites like Tumblr that went far enough to remove all NSFW content to try and combat this yet in doing that they simply destroyed the base for 90% of content creators to actually make money and use there site and in turn most have left You should focus less on websites who I know for a fact go through extreme lengths to try and ensure there content is kosher and these things aren’t happening and more on informing your children of the dangers of the internet.

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