In the age of “LOL,” hashtags, and emojis, the Internet is hardly a new tool. The world has seen a dramatic technological revolution, and the Internet has proven to be a valuable gateway to information and connections. But there’s a flip side; the Internet can also be pruned to become danger’s best weapon.
According to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 95% of teenagers ages 12-17 use the Internet. Among them, 81% use social networks. YouTuber Coby Persin easily demonstrates just how devastating the repercussions of social media can be in an online child predator social experiment he calls:
In the video, 21-year-old Persin poses as a 15-year-old boy by the name of Jason Biazzo. “With the parents’ permission,” says Persin, “I friend-requested three girls, ages 14, 13, and 12 years old.” He’s set up a simple but generic Facebook profile and messages the girls for a handful of days.
The first girl to be tested is 13-year-old Mikayla, who proves to be naively trusting. She takes Jason’s word on his recent move from Florida to “your town.” Notice that Jason doesn’t even specify the name of the town, but Mikayla accepts it with ease. They presumably exchange numbers and arrange to meet at a nearby park after her parents leave the house.
She sneaks out and makes her way there. When she arrives, she sees Coby and approaches him, asking who he is, and then—screaming. Mikayla’s father bursts out of his hiding spot, yelling at his daughter and reprimanding her for meeting with someone she had met on the Internet. Coby points out that they had been talking for only a few days, and that he could have been anyone.
The next girl is the youngest: Juliana. Jason asks her online if she wants to hang out, and she says yes. They schedule to meet at her house at night, after her father goes to sleep.
Before “Jason” is set to visit Juliana, Coby and Juliana’s father, John, discuss what might happen. “I don’t think she’s gonna open the door,” says John, but amends, “God, I hope she doesn’t open that door.”
She opens the door. Almost immediately, her father grabs her by the shoulders and angrily asks, “What’s wrong with you?” Juliana bursts into tears almost immediately and apologizes while John continues: “How can you do this? You’re twelve years old…We already lost your mother, what would I do if anything happened to you?” They then embrace, with Juliana still apologizing.
The last girl, named Jenna, is the oldest of the three. She ventures a bit further than her other two counterparts, even having a phone conversation with Jason. She believes her parents have left the house for “date night,” when in reality they’re crouching in Coby’s white van. Her parents are especially confident that their daughter won’t fail them in this matter.
But fail she does. Jenna, after confirming that Coby is Jason’s brother, climbs into the van without any hesitation. Coby immediately grabs at her, as do her parents, who have put on ski masks. She screams and futilely kicks at the door, only stopping when her parents reveal themselves. She’s met with a barrage of fury, with her mother ripping Jenna’s cell phone away and both her parents demanding to know what she was thinking. Jenna sits silently as her parents remind her of the movies they’ve watched and articles they’ve read concerning this kind of subject matter. Coby adds that she didn’t even know the person she was supposed to meet up with, and tells her to “never ever do that again.”
Persin’s video is a sobering insight into the shady world of social media and the ease at which child predators can obtain personal information. Parents should take steps to educate their children about these matters, no matter how educated the child is already. As always, teach them not only about stranger danger, but also about the dangers of people they already know. Several internet services also offer a map of your local area detailing nearby sexual offenders and personal information like addresses and offenses. Kids Live Safe is an example of just how handy this kind of information would be in protecting both you and your loved ones. Persin ends the video with a statistic noting that there are over 750,000 registered sex offenders currently residing in the United States—maybe more parents need to take aside their children and have a talk face-to-face.