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|Sheriff warns of dangers in networking online|
While many young adults utilize social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney warns parents there are dark sides to these sites.
During the past five years, the use of social networking Internet sites has become a part of everyday life for people as well as children.
Sites like Facebook and MySpace allow people to form online communities where they can create networks of people with similar interests to more easily communicate and share information with others.
According to a recent study, 87 percent of children between 12 and 17 years of age use the Internet, Toney said.
Of those, roughly 55 percent use social networking sties and almost half of them visit social networking sites once a day or more, according to the study.
Many of these sites have now become havens for child predators, Toney said.
In February, MySpace reported that during a two-year period, it turned over the names of 90,000 sex offenders banned from its site.
In March, Facebook reported it removed 5,000 sex offenders from its site during a nine-month period.
"The real danger lies in the fact that children are sometimes na´ve to the fact that everything they post online becomes public information, and the person they connect with online isn't always who they say they are," Toney said. "This is the dark side of social networking."
"Along with favorite bands and best friends, kids are posting phone numbers, class schedules and other personal information that makes them vulnerable to anyone who wants to track them down," he said.
Last year, new security standards were set by MySpace and Facebook to protect minors from sexual predators. Some of the changes included banning convicted sex offenders from the sites, establishing limits on older users' ability to search profiles of members under 18 and utilizing better methods to verify users' ages and identities.
The Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office suggested the following tips to prevent cyber predators from contacting your children:
- Children and teenagers should be supervised at all times when on the Internet. Put your computer in an open area where you can see what they are doing online.
- Spend time online with your child and establish good rules for his or her Internet use.
- Keep an open line of communication with them and talk to them about the issue of cyber crime.
- Block and report anyone that sends you unwanted or inappropriate communications.
- Help your kids understand what information should be kept private. For example, phone number, address or pictures showing specific locations.
- Remind your children that people online are not always who they say they are.
- Tell your child not to share their password with anyone except you.
- Learn how to block objectionable material and check your child's history if necessary.
- Understand privacy settings and use them to restrict who can access and post to your child's Web site.
"Think of the Internet as a tool as powerful as getting behind the wheel of a car. You only hand over the keys to the car after education, training and adult supervision," Toney said. "The same should hold true for your child using the Internet, except here your child has the key to the world with the click of a mouse. It is up to you as a parent to help them navigate safely."