An Online Safety Service Conducted an Experiment – The Results Were Shocking

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Parenting has changed a great deal in the last two or three decades.

Kids used to be able to play outside unsupervised for hours, but now the world seems to be a more dangerous place.

We should feel safer now that more and more kids have phones and computers to stay in constant touch, but there is a frightening downside.

Roo Powell leads the Special Project Team at Bark, an online monitoring service that aims to keep kids safer.

Bark offers a parental app, sending alerts to parents’ or caregivers’ phones if dangerous online activity is detected on their child’s device.

They provide monitoring of dozens of social media networks, as well as YouTube and text messages, in order to detect content that may put kids in danger.  They also monitor for signs of depression or talk of teen suicide in texts or posts.

Powell and her team decided to conduct an experiment to see just how dangerous it can be for kids and teens online.

The results were sickening and shocking.

The team at Bark took photos of Powell, age 37, dressed in clothing that a teen would wear and then altered her photos to make her look twenty years younger.

Powell posed as young girls on various social media sites, at one time pretending to be 15; another as an 11-year-old.

One of the personas Powell created was that of a teen girl named “Libby.”  The team created a full profile for her, complete with “friends” who interacted with Libby on social media.

The first hour after the profile went live, Powell, posing as Libby, received messages from seven different adult men.

A little more than a week later, that number had skyrocketed to nearly a hundred.

The comments were lewd, shocking, and horrifying.

The men asked “Libby” for nude photos, asked about her sexual experiences, and even requested to meet with her at hotels.

The entire team had to work continuously just to keep up with all the incoming messages, that included men trying to video call “Libby.”

With undercover law enforcement officers nearby, Powell agreed to meet one of the men in a hotel lobby.  He immediately started pushing her to get a room with him.

Even more shocking is that nearly the same scenario occurred when the team created another profile of a girl named Bailey – age 11 – in their attempt to see just how far predators would go based on the child’s age.

Again, there were requests from grown men for nude photos of Bailey and multiple sexually-charged comments.

The Bark team set up the profiles on multiple social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

These sites are often listed as some of the most notable for sexual targeting of teens by online predators.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has recently focused on the use of Instagram by predators in order to groom children or lure them into sex trafficking.

The more our technology improves, the more criminal predators will use it to prey on our vulnerable children.

As always, be vigilant about your child’s online activities.  Monitor their accounts, limit their time online, ask questions, and demand answers.

It is not an invasion of privacy or crossing a line if you tell your kids you expect to know everything they are doing on social media or other online platforms.

It is your job as their parent to do anything you can to protect them.

It could be a matter of life and death for your child.