Years ago, before memes were even a thing, I found an image on a site that sold “humorous” but off colour T-shirts. It was of an overweight, middle-aged, bearded, dodgy-looking man wearing a shirt that said “I’m the 14-year-old girl you were chatting to on the Internet last night”.
Social media was just getting going and smartphones had not yet made an appearance much less become the ubiquitous companion of every young person. But already the wrong type of people had seen the opportunity to exploit the technology for their own twisted purposes.
How far have we come today in terms of technological advances? Back then it was mostly hiding behind the anonymity afforded by the Worldwide Web. Now, images & video can be transmitted anywhere in the world at lightning speed. The visuals themselves can be manipulated and faked and the potential for deception has grown exponentially. So if we accept that “stranger danger” in the digital world is an inescapable reality, what, if anything can we do about it?
Potential abusers will always try to target the vulnerable. Our kids fall squarely into that band mostly because of naivety and lack of experience. If not correctly prepared for what dangers potentially lurk in the online environment they become vulnerable to abuse, be that sexual exploitation, manipulation or just plain intimidation. As with many things the starting point is always good communication.