Virtual Awareness: How Predators Use Social Media and How to Protect Yourself

Updated: Jan 29

These days, the line between street safety and virtual safety is fine and thinning. Predators frequently use social media and other online platforms to gain information on future victims, and many predatory crimes happen completely online with no physical component. Let's get into this critical part of personal safety.

How do predators use social media?

Social media allows anyone to make a profile and immediately connect to anyone else on the platform. Gaming platforms also allow live messaging between players, which is frequently utilized by predators in the same manner. In order to keep ourselves and our children safe we must learn about the tactics predators use. Here's what every adult and child needs to know.

1. Predators hide their identity

The first thing to understand is that predators often change their identity online. For example, a 58 year old man will pretend to be a 13 year old boy, and then try to talk to other 13 year old girls online through social media or gaming platforms. People use fake social media accounts for all sorts of purposes like bullying, watching a persons stories and posts, messaging someone under false pretences, and many more- all with anonymity. We can safely bet that anyone with a fake account is not up to anything good, and we should all become savvy at investigating social media profiles for authenticity.

Know the Grooming process

Once a predator establishes open communication with their victim, they begin the grooming process. A predator's goal online is always to receive content or exploit in person.

2. Predators seek trust from victims.

Predators first try to establish trust. They may pretend to be someone else, or they may be open about their identity and use other manipulative tactics to gain trust from victims. Tweens and teens are often self conscious, and predators swoop in to make them feel special through compliments and validation. These tactics are also used with adult victims and with a wide variety of abusive crimes.

Essentially, predators tell the victim everything they want to hear and make them feel special.

Human traffickers (and other types of abusers) often try to find out what victims are lacking in their lives, and then move in to fill that void. This could be money, a sense of security or belonging, self esteem, or friendships. Once the predator establishes his or herself as the new trusted 'care giver', they try to isolate the victim from their friends and family. This grooming process could last anywhere from days to years.

3. Predators seek personal information.

Predators seek personal information like your address, school, or phone number, which they may use to find your whereabouts in order to plan a physical attack. They may also ask details about your personal life and relationships. Predators can often find useful personal information without even messaging the victim from what the victim freely shares on their social media profile. Here's an example of when personal sharing on social media goes wrong:

In February 2020, a famous rapper called Pop Smoke was assassinated in his Beverly Hills air-bnb. The night before, Smoke shared an instagram story showing his Amiri shopping bags with his address printed on them, as well as a photo in front of the home. That night a group of gang members broke in and killed him. This video breaks down the crime.

This is a tragic real world example of how personal sharing can end up deadly. The video highlights how modern gangs are extremely sophisticated. This gang used air-bnb, real estate apps, and google maps to find luxury rental homes, and then used social media features like tags and locations to track who stayed there. As soon as the renters share a video of themselves at the beach or club, the gang moves into the home for a robbery. In worst case situations, gangs use the same method to track renters whereabouts for kidnappings, assault, robbery, or murder.