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Presentation to focus on the dark side of social media

Exposing the dark side of social media is the topic of a NyE Communities Coalition workshop this month.

Sgt. Raymond Spencer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department will give a presentation on Internet crimes against children at the coalition’s activities center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at their 1020 East Wilson Road location on Tuesday, Jan 26.

Resource Coordinator Alicia Lewis has attended previous presentations and urges parents of young children and teens to attend.

She said many area children who received Christmas gifts last month will likely be accessing social networks with their new gadgets and devices.

“We have a new generation of kids that are just now learning about the tablets, iPads, and cell phones,” she said. “One of the biggest concerns about students using the Internet, is that they never know who is on the other side of that computer. They don’t know if it’s really a 14-year-old student that maybe they just haven’t met, or whether it’s a 35-year-old man who may live in another country. That’s the biggest danger, you don’t know who’s on the other side of that screen.”

Instances of individuals using social media to lure children and teens, or commit other crimes is not uncommon in the Pahrump Valley.

In 2014, Nye County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for allegedly trying to lure a minor to have sex with him through the social media site Facebook.

The man was arrested on one count of luring a child after investigators said he agreed to meet a female Facebook user who identified herself as being 14 to engage in sexual activities.

Last year, a social media posting led to the arrest of a Pahrump man and woman on solicitation and prostitution charges after police responded to a Craigslist ad.

Investigators said the advertisement depicted a photo of a young woman who was 18 and looking for a guy, providing sex and was always available.

Lewis said Spencer will talk about some of the new apps that are very popular among children and teens.

“There are a lot of apps the kids are using that the parents may not be aware of,” she said. “I thought I was a little bit computer savvy and up to date with stuff like that, but when he did his presentation, there were several apps that I have never even heard of. To see the youth in the audience who knew all about these apps was a little alarming to me.”

Among some of the apps Lewis mentioned were “Kik” and “Whisper.”

“Kik is strictly an app, so you cannot access it through an actual computer,” she said. “It is strictly an app on your mobile phone and it’s very private. With Facebook and Twitter, you have profiles of different people and you can see common interests, but Kik is like sending a private message, so you really have no way of knowing who they are, where they are, or how to trace it. At least with Facebook you can see where they are posting from.”

Lewis said the Whisper app is similar.

“I also had never heard of that one,” she said. “Whisper was one that kids would log onto and it would automatically let the child know who in their area is on that app. Anyone who was not in their immediate area was not on that. And that’s a little alarming as well.”

Additionally, Lewis said parents, such as herself, should always be aware of their child’s social media activities, even if it requires the children not knowing.

“For me personally, there are no secrets,” she said. “If you are under 18 years old, you are a minor child and my responsibility and I will have their pass codes. If I find out they changed their passcodes for something they shouldn’t be on, then I take it. Another thing that is recommended is for parents to actually take their kids’ phones at night and charge them in their own bedrooms because it gives kids the downtime where there is that no access point.”

Online predators aside, Lewis said Spencer will also discuss other problematic issues relating to social media.

“Cyber-bullying is something that is huge nowadays,” she said. “If you take the phone from your child at night, at least they get that eight or 10 hours where they cannot be reached or harassed or bullied. Parents really have to take charge and remember that we are parents and not friends.”

Additionally disturbing, according to Lewis, is what’s known as “sexting,” where teens engage in conversations and share sexually provocative images, at times of themselves and others.

“Unfortunately, sexting is popular among kids today,” she said. “When I checked out the Whisper app to see what it was all about, a lot of it was texting, but it was in a public open forum so it wasn’t just one student sending those inappropriate messages to another student. It was a whole room full of them so that should be a definite concern among parents.”

Lewis noted that parents who attended the last presentation should do so again this year, as the landscape of social media is always changing.

“Even if they did come the first time, I would highly recommend that they come again because Sgt. Spencer has to go through and update all of his information about every 3 to 4 months because it’s always changing,” she said. “I would almost be willing to bet that there will be a lot of new information on new technologies out there that he will cover.”

The presentation is free and no RSVP is necessary.

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com.

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