News Column

Facebook Scare Prompts Safety Warnings

Sept. 20, 2011

Gina Childress

In the wake of a frenzy of phone calls to the Wilson County Sheriff's Office concerning a sexually explicit Facebook page, officials are cautioning parents to pay close attention to their child's activity on the Internet.

Investigators with the sheriff's office were alerted to the page Thursday after numerous phone calls and information were received complaining about the Facebook page.

The Facebook profile titled "Bubba Hart" was the source of a "sex party" invitation in Lucama that was to take place at the end of September. The page was filled with inappropriate language and photographs. All of the people listed as "friends" of Bubba Hart were teenagers.

Sheriff Calvin Woodard announced Friday night the page was a hoax and was initiated and operated by a 15-year-old. He said the page was created in December 2010. Woodard said no charges could be brought against the juvenile, but the page was disabled after authorities contacted Facebook.

Once word of the inappropriate page and party began to spread on Facebook through members in the Wilson community, adults became concerned about the safety of the youth in the community.

Adults were posting on their pages to contact authorities about the activity of the page and to check their children's pages to make sure they were not friends with Bubba Hart.

In the wake of the uproar the page caused, sheriff's officials encourage adults to keep a close eye and monitor activity on the Internet.

"Facebook is a social website to locate friends, advertise and socialize. It is sad, however, individuals use the Web site to create panic in a community -- there were a large amount of calls to me personally and the office," Woodard said. "I ask that parents continue to monitor their children's usage on the Internet."

The U.S. Department of Justice, Division of the FBI, says even though the Internet opens up a "world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway."

Officials strongly encourage parents to closely monitor their child's activity and offer the following tips:

--Keep a close eye on when your child is online. "Children online are at the greatest risk during the evening hours," FBI officials said. "While offenders are online around the clock, most work during the day and spend their evenings online trying to locate and lure children ..."

--Check your child's computer and computer history for possible pornographic material. "Sex offenders often supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussion and for seduction," federal officials said.

--Take notice if your child receives phone calls from people you don't know or makes long distance calls to numbers you don't recognize. "While a child may be hesitant to give out their home phone number, the computer-sex offenders will give theirs out. With caller ID they can then find out the child's number."

--Check to see if your child is using an account that belongs to someone else online.

Law enforcement officials say social media sites are not the only means of an offender getting in touch with potential victims. They use texting, chat rooms, email, and instant messaging applications.

The FBI encourages parents to talk with children and teens openly and honestly about the possible online dangers. They strongly suggest parents teach their children to never give out their phone number, address, name, school name or cell phone number to someone they have met over the Internet.

One way to stay involved in your child's Internet activity is to sit down with them and have them show you some of their favorite sites to visit and learn their activities.

Another suggestion law enforcement officials make is to keep the household computer in a common room in the house and not in their bedrooms.

"It is much more difficult for a computer sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household," the FBI warned.

There are parental controls that can be activated and software that can be purchased to block specific material on the Internet.

Source: (c)2011 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)

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