In Focus, Letters, Lifestyle, Ludotheque

Social Networking…. Do not talk to strangers

Currently, 80% of web users use social networks to communicate or to bolster their self esteem, however many of them put their real life safety at risk in the search for virtual popularity.

Viridiana Ramirez

In 2011, the murder of Ana Maria Chavez Nino, 19, put Colombian Facebook users on their guard. It came to light that the victim had maintained a friendship with the perpetrators through her profile, and that this led her to invite them into her home, where she was killed.

The paradoxical part is that the girl’s family traced those responsible using this social network, allowing the police to arrest them.

In 2012, in Argentina, the mother of a minor of 15 years found on her facebook account erotic conversations and images of the sexual relationship that she had had with a 41 year old man.

A similar event, was reported in the newspaper El Pais in 2010, when in Cadiz a girl of 16 was sexually assaulted by a 33 year old man who established contact with her through her Tuenti page.

These cases beg the following question: Could the victims have decided at what level they protected their privacy and whom they would trust?

Everyone on the network and no privacy

One of the attractive parts of social networking, is the search for popularity, and profiles have become competitive spaces and means to reaffirm self esteem.

However, the Canadian Waterloo University observed that users with a negative self image continually post discouraging messages and could give way to suicidal thoughts. Following this the NGO The Samaritans UK has begun to offer psychological assessment through Facebook.

Facebook is host to around 955 million users, helping them to ‘maintain the links fundamental to life’.

Its defenders argue that 90% of users are linked to ‘real’ contacts, or people that they know, and that only 7% could be strangers.

Worldwide, social networks have 80% of all internet users on their books.

In the U.S. 81% of young people aged between 18 and 29 use Facbook in order to be “linked to reality”.

This, according to Facebook’s detractors is the most shocking fact, given that every single one has given permission to belong to the largest database of personal information that has ever existed, and to be subject to observation by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In Europe, Austrian student Max Schems solicited from Facebook a copy of the registers of his activity as a member, downloading as many as 1200 pages of history covering a space of three years, and discovered that the way this information is treated reduces the security of users.

Loss of opportunities

It is difficult to imagine how editing a profile or publishing a ‘tweet’ could interfere with job opportunities.

However, the British newspaper The Guardian, reports that 39% of North American employers nowadays examine candidates’ profiles and even go as far as to request email and Facebook passwords, as a sign of trust. In other cases, employees who had expressed critical or ‘imprudent’ opinions of their places of work have been sacked.

Malevolvent Links

Facebook, with an estimated 83million false accounts, is named as the portal that generates most mistrust amongst the public, as much for ‘malevolent links’ or fraudulent accounts that it is home to, as for the rumours that circulate about the sale of information of users.

Kaspersky Lab tells us that Twitter, Google+ and Linked In are vulnerable to multiple misleading creations, and adds that 20% of malware, or damaging software, has found a paradise in the form of social networks, similarly in Russia, the social network VKontakte has put at risk the security of it’s consumers.

Jack Dorsey, fundador de Twitter.

The use of malware on social networks, has not only focussed on the theft of user accounts for financial gain, but also the invasion of personal computers to criminal ends.

The abundance of personal data, that ranges from the brand of mobile used, telephone number, postal addresses, to bank account number, increases the risk of fraud, extortion and kidnapping.

Economic growth in Latin America has equally benefitted cyber criminals; Dmitri Bestuzhev indicated that Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and Argentina are the countries where the use of smartphones, tablets and laptops is highest and consequentially, where the highest incidence of cyber crime exists.

At least 85% of adults in China have been victims of cyber crimes, either from malware infections acquired through apps or for identity theft, whilst in South Africa 84% have suffered and in Mexico 83%.

Don’t talk to strangers

As unlikely as it may seem, criminals both cybernetic and real are frequently assisted by their victims.

Colombia, in 2011, imposed the first sentence for a case of sexual extortion perpetrated using a social network, where 100,000 pesos was demanded from the victim to avoid the publication of erotic photographs that she had provided her blackmailer with. It is not uncommon that this crime takes place with the consent of the victim.

Opportunities for sexual extortion are greater when the user establishes contacts simply because they are considered ‘attractive’, was according to an article published in the magazine Men’s Health.

Another problem comes in the form of ‘sexting’, where young people participate actively or passively in the exchange of sexual images.

Sexual insinuations are far from infrequent on social networks, according to Inteco and Orange, 1 in 3 adolescents from the US have taken part in ‘sexting’, 1% of whom are minors, whilst 55% are 16 and 17 year olds. 10% of those involved admit to having exchanged images with strangers.

Incidences of sexual abuse stemming from this phenomenon have increased between 2008 and 2009 because paedophiles are able to create false profiles in order to obtain sexual material or make dates.

In Brazil and Mexico, 90% of adolescents, principally women, have received requests to display themselves naked via webcam or to send photographs.

In 2009, in the United Kingdom, the murder of the so called ‘Facebook killer’, Peter Chapman, made manifest the danger of the anonymity which the virtual world offers.

Networks of hostility

The popularity which internet users seek through their profiles is continually obliterated by various forms of cyberbullying, attacks on reputation, harassment or slander.

Jorge del Rio, an academic at the University of Navarra in Spain, showed that students between the ages of 10 and 18 are prone to harassment via mobile phone and online video games. This can also take the form of forgery and identity theft. In 2012 in Spain, the police reported that half of slander and libel offences were committed using social networks such as Tuenti, principally by creating false profiles using stolen photographs.

In 2004, in the US, Matthew Bandy aged 16, was accused of possession of child pornography and other crimes, after having his identity stolen.

Moral damage and physical suffering

To make privacy vulnerable would appear to be a personal decision. Maria Cecilia Rodriguez, analyst of social networks highlighted on two occasions that the number of status updates on Facbook profiles can be excessive, on Twitter there are users who change theire profile as many as 36 times a day, on Google+ 21 times on Facebook 16 times and Linked In an average of 14. This increases the possibility of being observed or followed by people with malicious intentions.

Beyond the moral damage to which social network users can fall victim, the Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), discovered that some narcotrafficking groups use specialists in computing to locate possible victims of kidnapping and extortion in the United States. As well as this it was confirmed that these methods of virtual and ‘express kidnapping’ are possible using information obtained from web profiles.

The DEA also confirm that in Mexico, criminal organizations recruit youths aged between 14 and 20 years, to use them as spies, assassins, or traffickers, contacting them via their facebook accounts.

The department added that the trafficking of people is another phenomenon related with social networks.

(Translated by Thomas Andrew Wright

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