Social media safety concern of parents as sites maintain popularity

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Social networking sites continue to grow in popularity among all age groups, but just because privacy settings are in place does not mean that all content remains private.

"The danger side to it is that it's essentially public," said University of Southern Mississippi professor Dr. Gina Chen. "Computers remember everything."

As the rise in sites continues, some parents may be concerned about the safety of their children on these accounts.

"I think social media is becoming increasingly a part of our life, so I think it's important to understand how to deal with the privacy issues of it," said Chen. "It's not something that I don't want my children ever to use because I know that's probably not attainable, but I think it's important for parents to put limits on both at what age they use it and how they use it."

With the world of the internet at the tips of our fingers, all it takes is one press of a button to become connected with a predator. That's why Chen says, not only as a social media expert but also as a parent, she keeps a close eye on her children's social media accounts.

"I explain to them, you know, there may be adults who are trying to use social media to reach you," said Chen. "There may be adults who are trying to be kids. There may be adults who are using it in a way that's inappropriate. And if someone says something that makes you uncomfortable, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me."

Mississippi has laws that protect people of all ages from predators and bullies on social media. These range from cyber stalking, to obscene electronic communications to posting messages with the intent to cause harm. Most come with a penalty of imprisonment for no more than five years and/or a maximum fine of ten thousand dollars. State Attorney General Jim Hood has a Cyber Crime Unit that focuses on these types of violations, and with a rising rate of cyber crime, Hood says he and his unit will work with youth prosecutors to see if legislative changes are needed.

"I see my role as a parent is to teach them, just as I teach them anything else," said Chen. "Teach them how to use it safely, and I think that's the key."

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