As an internet and social media safety advocate, as well as a law enforcement professional, I am well aware of the dangers and consequences of sexting, which I share with students in ourInternet and Social Media Safety Presentation for schools. One of the unintended consequences of posting or texting sexualized pictures…..they will not likely stay private and because of this fact, these same pictures could be used for the criminal purposes of “extortion”, or what we in the Internet and Social Media safety industry call “sextortion”.
In May 2010, Ryan Earl McCann, who was 20 years old at the time of his crime, socially engineered over 20 young women on-line in the Province of Ontario, where he tricked these young women into performing sexually explicit acts in front of their web-cams. Unknown to these young women, McCann was recording everything they were doing, which he later used to extort them with. McCann advised all these young women that if they did not further perform further sex acts for him on-line; he would release his recordings and invite all their friends on their social networks to come and have a look.
In late 2011, a teenage boy in British Columbia was also arrested for extorting schoolmates, which he had tricked into revealing their genitalia on-line, and threated to make public for all to see.
I have presented to over 65,000 students in the province of British Columbia, several of whom have reached out to me for help because of sexting challenges that went wrong. Often these pictures were being publicly distributed as a form of peer aggression by ex- boyfriends or girlfriends, but in some case they were being used for the purposes of extortion.
So what should we share with our kids about this on-line issue:
- First rule……don’t place yourself in this position
- The longer you ignore the sexting/sextortion the more widely distributed it will become
- As hard and as embarrassing as it will be, you must notify your parents or another person in authority
- Trying to deal with this challenge by yourself will likely have no effect
- If the picture is being texted during school hours notify a teacher, counselor or principal
- Notify the police immediately
More importantly, have an open and honest discussion with your kids about this issue and why good digital citizenship is important in todays world. You may also want to invest in a good parental software monitoring program such as “Spector Pro” for home computers and laptops, and “Phonesheriff” for cellphones and smartphones. Both of these programs can capture sexting pictures that you can view as a parent. Ultimatley remember however, no software is 100% effective. We would also strongly suggest that you get the computer and cellphone out of their bedrooms.