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The Dangers of Facebook Are Real

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Ashleigh Hall, 17, was raped and murdered by a 33-year-old man she met on Facebook who was posing as a teenager. How does this happen?

Ashleigh Hall

Lori Getz: Who is Peter Cartwright? Is he a 19-year-old Facebook hottie, or a 33-year-old registered sex offender? The answer became clear after the man behind the pseudo-identity, Peter Chapman, raped and murdered 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall in the fall of last year. He was found guilty on Monday and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Ashleigh and Peter met on Facebook and quickly became friendly, exchanging notes on their walls. They even sent text messages to each other. Peter was posing as an attractive 19-year-old, using a photo of a bare-chested young man as his profile picture.

Within a month, Peter had convinced Ashleigh to agree to a face-to-face meeting, telling her his father would be picking her up for the weekend rendezvous. Ashleigh's body was found the following Monday.

How does this happen? How do good kids fall prey to such horror? What is Facebook's responsibility? What is our responsibility as parents?

First, it happens more often than we want to think. It doesn't always end as tragically, but our kids are enamored with being "famo," or Internet-famous. The more friends they have online, the more popular they seem to think they are. But this just isn't so. The truth is, the more online friends they have, the bigger the target on their back.

Good kids fall prey to predators for a couple of reasons:

1) They are trusting! They have a hard time believing anyone would want to do them harm.

2) Predators are smart and patient! They find "good victims" and wait patiently to cultivate a relationship that is built on a false sense of trust and loyalty. A predator will become your child's best friend, significant other, parent or mentor. They will be whatever the victim needs them to be in order to gain their trust.

What makes a "good victim?"

A "good victim," in the eyes of a predator, is someone who is seeking attention. When predators see sexy or provocative profile pictures on Facebook, they are drawn to the users because they see them as attention seekers. And remember, predators are very good at giving victims all the attention in the world. Also, kids who are willing to friend just about anyone online are also seen as "good victims," because, again, they display attention-seeking behavior. Finally, when a user posts status updates about hating his/her parents or school, this gives the predator an opening to connect with the victim.

Is Facebook responsible?

Yes and no. Facebook, in my opinion, has a responsibility to act when lascivious or questionable behavior is brought to their attention. In the past, Facebook has removed known registered sex offenders from the site. The company encourages users to report any type of abuse that occurs within their site. Users can report everything from cyberbullying to potential predators. But the USERS need to know to do this.

Facebook's warning about dangerous predators is buried deep within the help menu under "Safety." But it is there. The warning talks about how people can pretend to be anyone they want, and therefore it is in the users' best interest to proceed with caution when friending strangers.

Increasing age requirements or attempting to block older and younger users is NOT going to solve these types of problems. As of now, Facebook requires that a user be 13 -- but I know plenty of 10-year-olds who have accounts (and their parents know about it). The kids just lie, and Facebook has no way of verifying such information (especially if the parents are in on the deception).

That's where we come in as parents. What is our responsibility?

To be active and involved parents in our children's online world -- the SAME way we are active and involved parents in their physical world. Education is the ONLY option here. Social networking has its pitfalls, but it also has incredible value when used appropriately. Staying connected with friends, marketing a new business, exchanging photos with family members across the world -- these are all positive things.

But we need to start talking to our kids about the fact that these communities have the same rules that our personal communities have. Keep personal information private, respect one another and do not involve ourselves with total strangers or invite them into our lives.

next: Former Child Star Corey Haim Found Dead, Investigation Underway
51 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris March 10, 2010, 10:40 AM

So do we require our kids to “friend” us or give us their passwords? At what age do we let them have privacy? How do you handle it if your kid does not want to share their Facebook page with you?

therushoffloyd March 10, 2010, 10:58 AM

Facebook isn’t to blame. This situation could have happened on any website, it just happened to be the most popular site in America at the time. People shouldn’t accept friend invitations from people they haven’t physically met.

Wendi March 10, 2010, 12:31 PM

It is the parents responsibility to make sure the kids are safe. I do not allow my kids to use any online sites. I tell them why too. They are 13 and 14 and I really don’t care if their friends do it or not. I refuse to put my kids out there and let them be exposed to all the crap. When they are older I may let them, but they will have to give me full access to their stuff

adelaide fitness March 10, 2010, 4:03 PM

it scares me to hear about this sort of stuff, it’s just very annoying!

tennmom March 10, 2010, 4:23 PM

Because they are under the age of 18, my daughters know that if I’m ever unable to access their accounts, I will shut them down.

Stefanie March 10, 2010, 9:36 PM

Whatever happened parents meeting the other party for the first time. If I did anything, especially as a teen that involved the opposite sex, my parents met him and his parents beforehand.

corey h.  March 11, 2010, 2:43 AM

i stopped reading after the first paragraph. get a grip. yes, it’s horrible. is facebook directly responsible, no.

Anonymous March 11, 2010, 10:40 AM

@Black Iris- Children do not have the right to decide whether or not they share their face book with their parents - at leas not in my world. I wouldn’t allow my kids facebook and if I did it would be strictly monitored. Privacy, begins in small increments as children age. However, Teenagers or Children do not require the type of privacy to have their own facebook without strict supervision

May March 16, 2010, 12:50 PM

I feel sorry for the girl! In term of responsibility, Facebook, parents, the victim should all take part of the responsibility.

As for Facebook, I don’t it appropriate for kid/teen to subcribe at all. A 17 year old teen is NOT old enough to undersdand about life. They are still in the learning curve/experiencing stage. Facebook need to work on their control/parenting system as it is so famous and widely use now.

For myself, I don’t subcribe on Facebook. I think the Facebook community is too chaotic, problematic, and unsafe.

Hope all the kids/teens do think twice before doing anything (including subcribing to any internet websites.)

Stacie June 2, 2010, 9:45 AM

The child’s death could have been avoided if one of her parents had met the person before sending her off with him—or, better yet, refusing to let her spend a ‘weekend rendezvous’ with someone that she met on the internet. Just like the rest of life, children need to learn about these websites—they’ll never learn to use them appropriately if they don’t have access to them. It’s up to us parents to teach them how to be safe online as well as off.

Joey Wong July 8, 2010, 7:44 AM

I’m trying to tell my classmates about the potential dangers of using social networking sites, such as facebook or myspace, but I think all of that effort have fallen on deaf ears. I admit this technology has a lot to offer - it’s great for networking, it’s convenient, it’s a great resource and overall, its user-friendly component make these sites fun to use.

Megan August 16, 2010, 9:04 PM

I recently canceled my facebook. This story is one of the many bad things about facebook. I finally chose to join a social network that cost money but facebook in the long run is def. not free after all how do they make money? By selling all of our personal information for a profit!!! Dangerous all the way around. Def. would never let my kids on it. At least my new social network has a check in balance for my saftey I pay 10 and have to use a card that is in my name to sign up- so I can not make up a fake name :) Also they do not sell my info and they have great privacy and acount settings that are respected. Do your self a favor and cancel your facebook!

Peter Donnelly August 29, 2010, 5:40 PM

Dear Sir/Madam of,

My Facebook account has been completely disabled, and I cannot re-register either. Could you please tell me why this is the case, or how I may - if possible - register a new account? I have not broken any rules, to in any way warrant nor justify my account being completely disabled and myself being completely unable to re-register.

I once recently criticised some of your very inadequate and high-risk Facebook policies, but only because I was very concerned for the protection and safety of children on Facebook, from some sexually dangerous and predatory adults, but my criticisms were not unfounded, they were not extreme, and neither were any of my very positive solutions to any of these matters and very serious problems in any way unrealistic nor unreasonable.

After the recent child sexual abuse cases over Facebook, between some sexually dangerous and predatory adults, who had contacted some vulnerable and innocent children over Facebook, stalked them, and then met-up with them and sexually abused them, all I suggested - with regard to updating and modernising some of your very inadequate and high-risk policies on these very serious matters - was that the age-limit to join Facebook as a user or member, should be 18, and not 16, and/or with substantially verifiable parental permission and information, such as verifiable and valid adult personal identification, via something like adult bank account details or statements.

Otherwise, and as another option, I suggested a completely separate - and if possible monitored - Facebook website just for children, where they can communicate together - as I’m sure that overall children much prefer to communicate and connect with each other as children anyway - and so these children may also therefore be totally safe from some any possible sexually dangerous and predatory adults.

Again, both these very reasonable and positive specific constructive criticisms of mine, of some of your inadequate and outdated Facebook high-risk policies, were not in any way unfounded, not in any way unrealistic or unreasonable, and neither were they in any way extreme - again, especially in light of the recent child sex abuse cases over Facebook - and which I feel that if you don’t substantially, genuinely, and sincerely update and modernise some of your very high-risk policies on these most vital and crucial matters and issues, that this will be a time-bomb waiting to go off.

None of my very good intentions and genuinely moral and ethical concerns, on these very vital and crucial matters and issues, warrant nor justify you taking the most uncaring, evasive, ignorant, and very extreme measures, in completely disabling my account and preventing me from re-registering, as if you did have any genuinely sound and valid criticisms of some of my criticisms of some of your very inadequate and outdated high-risk policies, then you could have at least of had the candour, decency, and honesty to tell me what it was you disagreed about with what I had said about all of this.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Donnelly.

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