‘The Great Social Media Arms Race’: Dangerous Apps & Social Media Leave Kids Vulnerable To Predators, Bullies

‘The Great Social Media Arms Race’: Dangerous Apps & Social Media Leave Kids Vulnerable To Predators, Bullies

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When it comes to the ways in which we connect with each other, the channels of communication have certainly changed.


There are hundreds of apps that kids can easily download for free to post, snap, share and tweet.


But advocates and law enforcement say often, kids share too much. They don’t realize many of the risks associated with those actions on social media.


KDKA was invited to sit in on an assembly at Brentwood High School focused on leadership and making good decisions. Part of that initiative, called “The Lead Program,” focuses on the potential dangers of apps and social media.


The company is Leadership-Development LLC, and is headed up by Judge Ron Arnoni, the district magistrate for Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair, and Brad Killmeyer, a speaker and author.


“It is a scary place out there,” Arnoni told KDKA’s Kym Gable, “and we want to make people aware of those facts, those sets of facts, and I see it in my courtroom, you know, with predators and people trying to prey upon our kids at all ages.”


“There’s so many great ways to use [apps and social media], but we just, we can’t let it be something that defeats us,” Killmeyer said.


Arnoni said he “could see a couple of cases a week” that involve victims being bullied, harassed and violated.


According to research by the Newport Academy and several other groups, the following apps can potentially put kids at risk:


  • AfterSchool

  • Ask.fm

  • Bigo Live

  • BitLife

  • Blendr

  • Discord

  • Holla

  • Houseparty

  • IMVU

  • Kik

There are dozens of others, but these are high on many lists for many reasons.


Some allow users to remain anonymous or create fake profiles. Some expose a user’s location with geo-tagging, which Arnoni urges everyone to disable on all apps, and some can potentially expose kids to unmonitored content, like violence and nudity.


Outreach Specialist Phil Little, from the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, knows the realm of social media influence is a driving for teens.


“Having more power, I would have to say, than NASA had in the 1960’s. What it took to put a man on the moon,” Little said. “If we’re going to use that piece of technology, we have to understand how powerful it is and, when misused and abused, can cause jams of colossal proportions.”


Little says the Attorney General’s team of investigators target predators who know how to groom and entice teens.


Gable: “So what is it that kids are doing to make it so easy for predators to contact them?”
Little: “Having more likes on a post, more views, more comments. They’ll accept follow requests from people they don’t know. These child predators know our children are in the great social media arms race.”


It was manipulation on social media that led to a horrifying ordeal for one local family.


KDKA talked to the mother, Terri, who wanted us to withhold her last name, for the sake of her daughter’s privacy. Terri says she wants to become a resource for others.


Terri’s daughter was cyber-bullied for years, and that led to her “connecting with the wrong people,” Terry says.


“That’s what was happening with her,” Terri said. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through therapy, a lot of social media. We’ve had to take her phone away from her just because of everything that was happening with her.”


It triggered a downward spiral that resulted in despair, even a violent attack.


“And all we knew was, go to the police station, and that’s when we found out everything. The kid had a knife to her throat,” Terri said.


As Terri helps her own daughter cope, she’s becoming an advocate for other families.


“I love being a mom because I love the fact that I saw my daughter going into the hole, the rabbit hole, and now she’s come out as a flower,” Terry said.


To learn more about the Lead Program with Leadership-Development LLC, and how to bring the program to a school or group in your community, visit OurLeadFamily.com.