“Violent online groups targeting minors to record self-harm, child sexual abuse material, FBI says”

Predators often seek out environments where youth lack supervision. Previously, predators had to target youth at places like playgrounds or while they were walking home from school. However, in today’s digital age, their targets are predominantly found online, where supervision is limited. This digital landscape provides a vast arena for predators to exploit and potentially remain undetected for extended periods, ranging from days to even years. The FBI has recently issued a warning regarding online groups that focus on exploiting youth to create and share self-harm content, engage in sexual abuse, and distribute other harmful materials.

Quotes from the article. They “target LGBTQ+ youth, racial minorities and those with mental health struggles”. A Pittsburgh FBI agent says ““The biggest mistake a parent can come out of this with is to think, ‘Not my child, not my community,’ we are seeing this here, we are extremely concerned about this.” 

The FBI has some recommendations for you. 

“The FBI urges the public to be cautious when posting or direct messaging personal photos, videos or identifying information on social media, dating apps and other online sites. The organization also says the public should consider the following warning signs regarding self-harm or suicide:

-Sudden behavior changes such as becoming withdrawn, moody, or irritable.
-Sudden changes in appearance, especially neglect of appearance.
-Changes in eating or sleeping habits.
-Dropping out of activities and becoming more isolated and withdrawn.
-Scars, often in patterns.
-Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks, burns, or other wounds.
-Carvings, such as words or symbols, on the skin.
-Wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather.
-Threatening to commit suicide and openly talking about death, not being wanted or needed or not being around.

The FBI also recommends the public consider the following when sharing content or engaging with individuals online:

-Monitor children’s online activity and discuss risks associated with sharing personal content.
-Use discretion when posting images, videos, and personal content online, particularly those that include children or their information.
-Images, videos, or personal information posted online can be captured, manipulated, and distributed by malicious actors without your knowledge or consent.
-Once content is shared on the internet, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove after it is circulated or posted by other parties.
-Run frequent online searches of you and your children’s information (e.g., full name, address, phone number, etc.) to help identify the exposure and spread of personal information on the internet.
-Apply privacy settings on social media accounts—including setting profiles and your friends’ lists as private—to limit the public exposure of your photos, videos, and other personal information.
-Consider using reverse image search engines to locate any photos or videos that have circulated on the internet without your knowledge.
-Exercise caution when accepting friend requests, communicating, engaging in video conversations, or sending images to individuals, you do not know personally. Be especially wary of individuals who immediately ask or pressure you to provide them photos or videos. Those items could be screen-captured, recorded, manipulated, shared without your knowledge or consent, and used to exploit you or someone you know.
-Do not provide any unknown or unfamiliar individuals with money or other items of value. Complying with malicious actors does not guarantee your sensitive photos or content will not be shared.
-Use discretion when interacting with known individuals online who appear to be acting outside their normal pattern of behavior. Malicious actors can easily manipulate hacked social media accounts.
-Secure social media and other online accounts using complex passwords or passphrases and multi-factor authentication.
-Research the privacy, data sharing, and data retention policies of social media platforms, apps, and websites before uploading and sharing images, videos, or other personal content.”