Online Predators: Recognizing the Signs and Protecting Your Child

mother and kids in front of a laptop
UPDATED January 12, 2024
Written By Althea Lallana

Protecting Your Child

There’s this stereotype of parents blaming most of a child’s bad behavior on their cell phones or the internet. Well, there is merit to that thought. After all, children’s still-developing brains make them very impressionable and easily influenced by what they see.

Yes, the internet allows access to vast resources, but this comes with potential risks. Unmonitored use of social media can break a child’s innocence and digital experience. Children may be exposed to online threats, one of the more dangerous ones being internet predators. This necessitates the intervention of social media moderation.

The prevalence of online predators on social media and various online platforms has become a concerning issue in recent years. Due to the widespread use of these platforms, it’s difficult to determine how many predators are there, looking for opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities.

Recognizing signs and taking proactive measures to fight against online predators on social media is of utmost importance for keeping kids safe online. One proactive method is to utilize the power of social media content moderation.

But first, what is an online predator?

Understanding Online Predators

online predator

Online predators are individuals who use the internet to target and exploit unsuspecting people, especially minors. They use fake profiles to pretend to be someone else and employ deceptive tactics to manipulate their victims. 

The FBI estimates over 500,000 active online predators every day, searching and targeting children between the ages of 12 and 15. Around 89% of these victims are approached by online predators via chat rooms or instant messaging. 

With these internet dangers statistics, parents and guardians must be aware of the risks and take action to safeguard their children. Understanding the characteristics of online predators and the methods they use is one of the safety precautions to protect children from harm. 

Characteristics of Online Predators:

  • Deceptive

No matter how good they look, always remember that it is just a front. These online predators usually employ deceptive tactics and create a false identity to gain the trust of their targets. They use fake profiles, images, and information to mask their true intentions, which makes it challenging for victims to recognize such potential danger.

  • Manipulative

Online predators are skilled in framing narratives to take control over their victims and lure them into unsafe situations. They play the game of emotional manipulation and use flattery, sympathy, or false promises to establish a connection. Aside from this, they focus on the victim's insecurities, fears, or desires, creating a sense of dependency on the predator. 

These tactics make it easier for a sexual predator to influence their victims into complying with their demands and engaging in inappropriate behavior.

  • Persistent

These internet predators are persistent in their pursuit of prey. They invest time, resources, and effort to build relationships and trust. They patiently wait for opportune moments to exploit their victims, maintain a facade of friendliness, and show interest in achieving their malicious goals over time.

  • Anonymity-Seeking

Online predators seek and maintain anonymity to avoid detection and consequences. They create profiles under pretenses, use virtual private networks (VPNs), or choose platforms that offer greater privacy. Also, they do everything to conceal their personal information, such as name, age, gender, and physical appearance. This anonymity enables them to operate discreetly without being identified or reported.

  • Aggressive

Sometimes, online or social media predators may exhibit aggressive behavior. They pressure or intimidate their targets into giving whatever they want. This aggression can manifest via stalking, harassment, explicit threats, blackmail, and coercion, resulting in a sense of fear on the victim's end.

Methods Used by Online Predators:

  • Deceptive Tactics

Online predators utilize deceptive tactics by creating false identities, such as fake dating profiles, and posing as someone of a similar age or with shared interests. By crafting a persona that aligns with the target's preferences, values, and needs, predators exploit the natural desire to build a romantic relationship.  

  • Grooming

Grooming is when predators prepare and build emotional connections with their targets over time. They gradually escalate the level of trust, comfort, and intimacy until the victim is conditioned enough to obey the predator’s commands. 

The grooming process involves compliments, sympathy, gift-giving, and subtly introducing inappropriate content. Predators trick victims into believing that they are in a genuine relationship. This creates an environment where victims may be more willing to comply with anything the predator requests.

  • Impersonation

Online predators can pretend to be someone the victim knows, such as a friend, family member, or relative. This method takes advantage of the familiarity and closeness between the victim and the impersonated identity, which exploits the trust innate in pre-existing relationships. 

This allows the predator to manipulate the victim into sharing sensitive information and engaging in risky behaviors or sexual acts.

  • Information Exploitation

Child predators on social media and other digital platforms exploit the personal information shared by their targets online. They use these pieces of information as a basis for building a profile that allows for more effective manipulation. 

This method involves tracking, monitoring, and collecting details about the victim’s interests, relationships, and daily activities. Such data-gathering gives the predator enough bullets to create a targeted approach and eventually gain the victim’s trust.

  • Mirroring

This refers to the predator’s way of reflecting or copying what the target does, likes, or feels. Doing so helps them create a fake connection and make the target feel comfortable. For example, if the child is fond of a particular hobby, the predator pretends to like it too, making the child think they have much in common. 

Recognizing Signs of Potential Danger

A kid receives an alarming message from her phone

To help parents and guardians maintain the safety of children online, it is vital to know or recognize the following signs of danger:

Behavioral changes in children who may be targeted

  • Changes in online behavior

Several and sudden changes in online behaviors may signal that a young person is at risk. One of these noticeable changes is an unexpected increase in screen time, especially during odd hours. Another change is when they start to be distant from family and friends. 

Additionally, changes in the type of content consumed or shared by the child can raise concerns. It indicates behavioral change if the post often shared is inappropriate and involves explicit content.

  • Emotional shifts and sudden secrecy

Watch out for emotional shifts, such as unexplained changes in children’s mood or demeanor. Emotional shifts happen when they seem to have lost interest in something they used to love, exhibit poor sleeping habits, or react with abrupt anger, anxiety, and fear.

Sudden secrecy is when the child becomes unusually private about their online activities. For instance, a child who was once open about their online interactions may now become guarded. They show reluctance or unwillingness to share details about the people they communicate with or the content they engage with.

The Role of Social Media Moderation

social media heart and like reacts

While it is true that social media platforms offer diverse and interactive spaces for communication and connection, these also present potential hunting grounds for various online threats. 

Social media platforms, especially popular ones like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have become digital venues where users, especially younger individuals, share content, engage with others, and express themselves. Unfortunately, these very characteristics make social media platforms more prone to internet dangers—grooming, cyberbullying, and phishing, among others. This is where social media content moderation comes into play.

Social media moderation refers to monitoring and managing user-generated content (UGC) to ensure compliance with community guidelines and legal standards. It includes reviewing posts, comments, and interactions to prevent inappropriate content and other harmful activities. 

Whether human or AI, content moderators help keep a positive online environment by dealing with violations, fostering constructive discourse, and upholding the social media platform's policies.

Let’s delve into the following social media moderation best practices that help children or teenagers navigate the digital space cautiously and responsibly. 

  • Age-Appropriate Content and Privacy Settings

Ensuring age-appropriate content and privacy settings is crucial for everyone’s safety. Age-appropriate content filters limit access to content that may be harmful or unsuitable, which contributes to a safer online environment. 

Meanwhile, privacy settings empower users to control who can access their personal and sensitive information to reduce the risk of online threats. Both help protect young minds from exposure to inappropriate, offensive, and abusive posts.

  • Reporting and Blocking Features

The significance of reporting and blocking features cannot be emphasized enough, as they help prevent users from interacting with cybercriminals. Reporting allows users to flag suspicious activities and inappropriate content they see online. This way, social media moderators and platform administrators are notified to take necessary action. 

Additionally, the blocking feature helps children or teens prevent unwanted communication, harassment, or potential threats. It is a good choice for reinforcing autonomy and protecting inner peace towards a safer and more enjoyable online experience.

Moreover, there are two practical approaches to ensuring children’s safety:

  • Utilizing parental controls for added security

This involves parents using specialized tools to monitor and manage their child’s online activities. These controls enable parents to set content restrictions, receive activity alerts, monitor usage patterns, and establish time limits for online access. 

  • Monitoring online activities without invading privacy

This approach requires parents and guardians to observe and supervise online interactions in a way that respects their child’s boundaries. It means overseeing internet use to ensure safety and responsible behavior without invading children’s privacy and confidentiality.

Educating Your Child

A mother guiding her daughter in using the internet

Open communication about online safety

  • Establishing trust and a non-judgmental environment

This is essential for fostering open communication and a sense of safety by creating a space where children feel confident sharing their thoughts, concerns, or experiences without fear of criticism. The foundation of trust and non-judgment welcomes meaningful interactions, enhances emotional well-being, and contributes to a more positive, supportive atmosphere.

  • Encouraging responsible online behavior

Be a good role model as you encourage your kids to take ethical and considerate actions when navigating digital platforms. Also, promote awareness about the impact and consequences of online activities on oneself and others. 

Empowering them to report suspicious activities

One of the best ways how to protect your child from predators is by encouraging them to exercise caution and alert you when they encounter the following red flags: 

  • Gets phone calls from unknown numbers
  • Receives letters, gifts, or packages from someone they don’t know
  • Receives unusual friend requests without any mutual friends
  • Gets unexpected messages that make them feel uncomfortable
  • Sees texts or chats containing unfamiliar links
  • Receives unsolicited comments from strangers

Collaborating with Schools and Communities

student using a phone

The role of schools in educating children about internet safety plays a crucial part in cultivating a safer digital environment. Integrating comprehensive digital safety education into their curriculum helps students learn about the risks they may encounter on the internet. They will be able to identify and report digital threats such as cyberbullying, online predators, hate speech, and inappropriate content. 

By providing relevant lessons like social media literacy, schools empower children to navigate the online world responsibly and develop the necessary skills to protect themselves and make informed choices in the digital age.

Nurture Children’s Safety with Social Media Moderation

While social media sites are known for their capacity to provide a space for everyone to connect, share, and communicate, these platforms are also considered hot spots for online predators. It serves as an outlet for digital threats that aim to exploit and harm the well-being of vulnerable users, especially minors. 

Given the red flags and signs of suspicious online activities, it becomes increasingly important for parents, educators, and guardians to arrive at collaborative efforts—education, communication, and social media moderation. 

Education is the stepping stone to equipping children and adults with the knowledge and skills to recognize potential risks and make informed online decisions. Open communication establishes trust, which empowers children to confide in adults about their online experiences. And, of course, social media moderation acts as a protective barrier that addresses and mitigates potential threats, creating a safer online experience for children or teenagers. 

Social media moderation encompasses a range of proactive and reactive actions, including text and chat moderation, inappropriate image detection, video moderation, and enforcing community guidelines.

For effective and reliable social media moderation services, consider Chekkee your trusted partner in creating a safe, remarkable, and enjoyable online environment for all ages. With the collaboration of human and AI content moderators, we ensure a comprehensive approach to fighting against child predators on social media.

Our experienced and dedicated team of content moderators strives to maintain a space where users can express themselves freely while protecting the vulnerable from exposure to harmful content. 

So, choose Chekkee for a harmonious digital experience. Contact us today for more details!

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