Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe talks with a parent at a school gathering about social media held on Thursday, Jan. 30, in Vale. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
VALE – The potential dangers of social media to youth came into sharp focus last week at a parent meeting at the Vale Elementary School sponsored by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.
The Thursday night meeting was triggered by an incident earlier in the week when a local youth used Snapchat to solicit nude photos of middle school-aged girls. An investigation by the sheriff’s office promptly led detectives to the youth.
The boy used a fake profile picture, said Undersheriff Travis Johnson. He said the incident had been “taken care of.”
The youth was not cited because he did not break the law, said Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff.
Wolfe said the youth solicited nude photos from “five or less” other minor girls but didn’t receive any. He said the sheriff’s office began to investigate the matter Wednesday morning and resolved the matter by Thursday afternoon.
Social media is a large part of the everyday life for today’s youth, said Wolfe at the meeting.
“The situation that brought this meeting about has been resolved and the positive that comes out of this is just this,” Wolfe told the crowd of about 50 people.
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Citizens gather on Thursday, Jan. 30, to hear representatives from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office speak. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
Wolfe said his office decided to convene the meeting to “talk about some of the pitfalls we have in this day and age.”
Wolfe was joined by Johnson, sheriff’s office detectives and deputies at the session.
Social media platforms are popular, far-reaching and woven into the fabric of our lives, said sheriff’s office Det. Bob Speelman.
They are also easy for criminals to commandeer and use to entice children, said Speelman.
“It is not hard for someone to create an account under a fictitious name,” said Speelman.
Youth are especially vulnerable, said Johnson.
“These kids today are faced with a lot of difficulties. They are kind of barraged with all this stuff on social media in general. There are all kinds of apps that create unrealistic expectations about who they are and what they can do,” said Johnson.
Just sending or receiving a nude photo is not a crime in Oregon, said Speelman.
“In order for it to be a crime, the individual has got to state he will get some kind of sexual gratification or the female sends the photo in a sexually explicit position or act,” said Speelman.
Neither circumstance occurred with the Vale incident, said officials, but the fact someone was soliciting nude photos of minor girls ratcheted up the urgency for the sheriff’s office, said Speelman.
“We didn’t know if we had a 50-year-old pedophile stalking girls in Vale. We were really worried there was someone stalking our little girls,” said Speelman.
Speelman said parents and guardians must be vigilant and check the cell phones and other electronic devices their children carry.
“Be a parent. Kids don’t own those (cell) phones,” he said.
Parents need to do their research, said Speelman, regarding how many different types of apps – and how they function – are available.
“If you don’t know what they (the apps) are on the phone ask about it. Check the web browser. Cell phones can be used even if they are not active,” said Speelman.
Wolfe also suggested parents should go through the contact lists on their children’s cell phones.
“And then ask who they are,” said Wolfe.
Sheriff deputies also handed out a one-page tip sheet that listed the “top 15 child predator apps.”
Those apps included: MeetMe, WhatsApp, Bumble, LiveMe, ASKfm, Grinder, TikTok, Snapchat, HOLLA, Calculator, SKOUT, Badoo, Kik, Whisper and Hot or Not.
Educating children on the potential dangers of apps is also important but Speelman told the crowd that “there is a way around every app.”
“These are all new problems that we are trying to deal with. Our goal is to raise awareness, help have some parents have some direction and encourage them to parent,” said Johnson.
Johnson said there are applications available for parents to monitor their children’s online time.
“The one that comes to mind is Google Family Link which allows you to watch a lot of stuff your kids are doing and control it,” said Johnson.
Google Family Link is geared to allow parents to follow what their child is doing on an Android device, including what apps are installed and the amount of time spent on those apps.
“Good kids are making mistakes because they don’t fully understand what is going on on this stuff because they are not mature enough to know how to react,” said Johnson.
Audience members offered suggestions from their own experience and asked questions about how to change Oregon laws to be more restrictive on what is considered online pornography.
Wolfe said the state’s laws need to be changed.
“This is where the discussion has to start,” said Wolfe.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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