You know your kids. You trust them. You probably know most of their friends – in person. Do you know each of their friends and followers online? Wait- do you know how many they have? Think it’s harmless? Not that big of a deal? Who would want to get to them? Does that really happen, or is it just another sensational news headline? You may want to keep reading.
It’s no secret that social currency today is defined as the number of friends, followers, even “likes” on a child’s social media account(s)…the higher the number, the more perceived popularity a child has. For that matter, the same can be said for many adults. The bigger the circle of friends and followers, the more influential that person may feel.
I often have the opportunity to speak to groups of kids. I always remind them of the dangers of allowing people they don’t know to follow or friend them. (When you were 14, did you personally know 600 people?)
This isn’t a harmless right of passage.
Casually accepting the request from a random stranger to “follow” or “friend” you can invite predators, even terrorists, into your world. To begin learning about you, who you are, what you like, what you do, who your friends are.
Social (Network) Experiment
I decided to try a small social experiment with an adult recently after a recent conversation with Jess, one of Frienedy’s Business Development Managers. Jess is very active on social media like millions of us, and she mentioned feeling that it was creepy to have so many outstanding friend requests on Facebook all of the sudden. We decided to dig into it just a little, and here is a sample of what we found:
- 1,157 Facebook friends
- 76 outstanding friend requests
- 50 of them are random strangers – wait, what?!
- 26 remote acquaintances or someone Jess met once
Looking into a few of the “random strangers,” she wanted to find out who they were. Are they really random? Here are 3 examples of what she found.
- Random Stranger #1 supposedly lives in Denver, CO and has a profile sporting the Denver Broncos logo. If Jess was an average Facebook user, she might have just clicked “confirm” when she saw this, given she lives in the Denver area and is a Broncos fan. However, when she looked further into his profile, she noticed some eerie photos of this person dressed up as what appeared to be some type of soldier, photos of machine guns, and some very unpatriotic and gruesome photos I won’t describe further here. Who IS this person?! Is he real?
- Random Stranger #2 is a woman with 46 friends who works at a church in IL. Jess looked at this woman’s friends to see if she knew any of them- each of them had over 1,000 friends. A simple phone call to the church confirmed no one by that name worked there. Further, there were 2 posts on her page from men over the age of 50 thanking her for the ‘friend request.’ This woman was born in 1991- she’s 24. Jess decided to DM one of this person’s 46 friends to see if he really knew her. Here is the response she got:
- Last but not least, Random Stranger #3 is a woman who has 7 photos posted in total with anywhere from 1 to 58 likes/comments on each. For a person who has 58 likes/comments on a picture, wouldn’t at least 1 of those comments be a friend complimenting her or saying something kind? Her comments were all from men who clearly didn’t know her. Is the profile real? If it is or isn’t, why is this person requesting to be “friends” with Jess?
We could speculate about the motives behind any of the 50+ friend requests, but the fact remains that in this case alone, these are adults “friending” another adult. Another adult who takes the time to check into the requestor versus casually clicking “Confirm Request” for the benefit of increasing her friend sphere.
Now, imagine a tween. Or a teen. Receiving random requests or messages from people they don’t know. Or, on a public platform where anyone can follow a user whose account isn’t set to private, imagine the number of “followers” like these examples who are out there walking through the door to your child’s life. But…the more followers or friends, the more popular you look. Consider some of the possible motives behind accounts who “friend” someone they don’t know- especially a child. If your imagination is limited, just turn on the news. You’re bound to see a story about the ISIS recruiter who had 57 Twitter handles to use for recruiting, or the man from MO who “friended” a young girl in OH and ultimately kidnapped her, or the mom from Utah whose kids’ photos were taken from her social media account and put on porn sites.
This is a very dark side of social media that is a very real risk if we aren’t supervising and checking out our kids online accounts.
As a HUGE fan of social media in general, I don’t like to dwell on negatives. I’m a ‘glass half full’ type about most everything. Unless and until it involves a risk to my kids. Or to other parents like me who are also raising kids in a vast digital world, where it’s very easy to not pay close attention to who our kids are socializing with online.
Do you know who that person is that your child is “friends” with online?