The appeal of Facebook can be seen by both kids and adults alike. With a bit of strategic parental guidance, you can educate your kids about the potential hazards of the social network and give them the tools they need to protect themselves from online predators.
Earlier this year, 33-year-old Peter Chapman was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 17-year-old girl he met through Facebook. Chapman, a registered sex offender, had created a fake profile and pretended to be 17 years old to gain the victim's trust.
Despite Facebook's valiant efforts to rid its site of online predators, the system isn't foolproof. The site has banned convicted sex offenders from joining, and in 2008 all of the known sex offenders already on the site were removed. However, considering the case of Peter Chapman, predators are still finding ways to cheat the system. As mentioned earlier, you can limit privacy settings so that your child is directly interacting only with people they know - and more important, you can hide information such as your child's age, school, and full name from people who are not direct friends.
Stress to your child the importance of avoiding people they do not know in real life. Even if the stranger's profile says that they are the same age as your child and that they go to a nearby school, the profile could be a decoy. Your child can report to Facebook any stranger who tries to contact them or engage in inappropriate activity.
Many third-party applications on Facebook are aimed directly at teens - often they involve games, establishing crushes, or sprucing up profiles. But many kids don't quite grasp that these Facebook components are not actually created by Facebook, and that therefore they have different terms of service.
Even worse, some of these external downloads could contain malware. Sunbelt Software has reported several suspicious Facebook scams, from a Texas Hold'em poker app containing adware to various phishing scams under similar disguises. Make sure you have an up-to-date antivirus program and ad-blocking software that could catch these threats. Talk to your kids about skimming through the terms of service and privacy policies for applications before they accept the download. Also advise them never to open a link posted on their wall from someone they don't know - it could point to a malicious site.
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