Speaker: Social media ‘dangerous youth trend’
by Mark Andrews
Oct 05, 2013 | 2062 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When it comes to teens and young people using social media, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jesse Hambrick Jr. said education is the key to preventing dangerous behavior.

During the Tanner Health System’s Dangerous Youth Trends Seminar, held Friday at the Cartersville Goodwill Career Center, Hambrick spent the day going over trending activities that can have dire consequences for youth in 2013, ranging from drug use and traditional bullying to using social networking sites for illicit or potentially dangerous purposes.

“We’re seeing a lot of gang activity being posted ... on Facebook, a lot of it is mimicking behaviors, a lot of it is legitimate behaviors,” Hambrick said during a session titled “Multimedia and Me.” “Posting threats [for example]. We’ve had incidents in the past where people will update their [Facebook] status as reaching out to people for drug use, [posting] ‘If you need weed, call this number.’”

Hambrick is in charge of community outreach, drug and gang prevention and is the acting supervisor for 14 school resource officers, as well as the DCSO’s juvenile/gang unit. He said as the number of cellphone apps grows and the technological capacities evolve, so does the difficulty to pin down whether legitimate crimes have been committed and, subsequently, the ability to begin the prosecution process.

“[An app titled] ‘Kik’ is a big one right now ..., and what’s interesting about ‘Kik’ is they’re located in Canada and Canadians don’t have to cooperate with law enforcement in the United States,” Hambrick said. “I know, as crazy as this sounds, we had a case where somebody posed as a young, attractive, female teacher — it wasn’t her, somebody had just taken pictures off the Internet — started a ‘Kik’ account and started texting these kids and saying ‘Hey, if you want to see a naked picture of me, send me a naked picture of you,’ ... and I don’t know where they get it from, but the kids didn’t think anything about it.

“They’d take pictures of themselves, send it to whoever this person was on his ‘Kik’ account, he gathered this information and then went and put it back out there to embarrass or to bully by putting these pictures out there on social media. When we tried to find out whose ‘Kik’ account it was, we couldn’t even find out because it’s in Canada ... we would have to get an international search warrant, so it creates this big problem.”

He said, for example, tech-savvy youth younger than 18 may access apps disguised as being used for legitimate purposes, such as a calculator or audio manager, when in reality they are attempting to hide photos from their parents.

“Just because you look at a phone and you don’t see pictures in the picture file, doesn’t mean the phone isn’t filled up with pictures,” Hambrick said. “We are finding a lot of apps out there that kids are using to hide photos that may be considered illegal because of their age and we’re catching that.”

He continued, “Just because at their age it’s illegal [to possess and distribute nude photos], we’re very cautious to charge them with any crimes because if they were [16 years old] and two years older, it wouldn’t be a crime.”

Hambrick said a challenge is drawing the line as to when to pursue charging a young person with a crime rather than allowing parents and schools, when applicable, to deal with issues such as inappropriate use of social networking sites or the trading of nude photos. He said while media often portrays this behavior as being exclusive to teens, that isn’t always the case.

“We had a situation where we had two very young 9- and 10-year-old kids ‘sexting’ back and forth, and you don’t charge a 9-year-old kid,” he said. “You have to educate and hopefully bring them to where they understand what they’re doing can be dangerous, ... and in the worst case scenario, [the photos] end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t have their best interest in mind.”