Of the more serious warnings given on the subject of Facebook users, I feel the one by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesperson Derrick Carreon needs to be heeded by young netizens—and parents as well.
He warned recently that a huge percentage of drug mules or couriers of illegal drugs were befriended and thereafter recruited through social networking sites in the internet.
They were often “liked” on Facebook by foreigners and locals who offer easy money and that irresistible appeal to travel abroad.
Victims, he said, are often poor, young, with little or no means to an education, and ignorant of the modus operandi of drug lords masquerading as Facebook “friends.”
The rise in incidents of recruitment online forced some officials to look into the matter closely, with the idea of including a seminar on the subject of drug mules or felonious internet recruitment for prospective overseas workers.
Carreon mentioned during a presentation that potential victims are offered $3,000 (a little over P100,000) for a successful “drop-off” and the possibility of being employed abroad. Others also masquerade as travel or foreign employment agents, offering the promise of a better life as tourists or immigrants in a foreign country.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, ingenious as they are, are in more ways than can be imagined quite a public place, a sort of virtual jungle complete with “blind alleys,” “dark corners,” and, believe it or not, a number of “dead ends.”
It bears mentioning, too, that those who pose as “friends” in Facebook could be wanted felons hiding behind nice looking avatars or profile photographs, not to mention an impressive but fraudulent bionote: College graduate with honors, vice-president of a reputable company, or posing as your average rich kid donned with the regular implements of wealth and influence.
Predators apparently lurk not only in jungles but the cyberjungle as well. Here are some very disturbing statistics from various sources: (from http://www.sentrypc.com)
“One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet says they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information.” – Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center
“25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.” – Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center
“75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.” – Source: eMarketer
“Only approximately 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.” – Crimes Against Children Research Center
“One in 33 youths received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year. This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money, or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service.” – An Internet Safety Survey
“77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older. Another 22% were users ages 10 to 13.” – Crimes Against Children Research Center
Which brings us to the question: Is Facebook turning into a nuthouse?
Yes and no.
Yes, because they are, without doubt, out there, in cyberspace, waiting on some child or teenager to either share so much of himself or herself in the internet, or be gullible enough to believe everything posted on a social networking site.
No, because it is safe to say there are more good people using the internet than criminals. Problem is, felons have numbers enough in the internet to disturb one’s peace of mind. Let’s not even talk about your commonplace, over-the-counter cybercrime, identity theft and virus attack.
What to do? For starters, as parents, never use the internet as your electronic nanny. It is not a toy to trifle with as many ought to know by now. Guiding your children to consider the internet as a means to vital information could be a good first step. It pays to tell them the good and bad side of it.
Strangers in the real world and strangers online are one and the same.
No, I am NOT advocating any and all policies or laws that seek to censor the internet. This is the last bastion of free speech, and no amount of laws pushing for censorship will stop criminals from doing what they do best. Safety, in this matter, must begin at home.
It is safe to assume that many parents have all but given the internet a second look. Given these disturbing statistics, they should. Work, deadlines, meetings, out-of-town conventions, contract signings will all mean nothing once a child has been abducted or forced into prostitution or used as a drug mule.
By the time you’re made aware of it, it’s too late.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.