Beware of online predators and lack of privacy

by Marissa Ochoa

We all know that old saying “don’t take candy from strangers.” We’ve been taught from a young age to be cautious around people we don’t know, but have we kept up with this lifelong lesson? Social media has exploded in the past decade and will only continue to get bigger. We’re used to checking in on Facebook, Instagramming our friends and family, and tweeting our everyday thoughts. We easily forget that all the information we put on the web is there for anyone to see. As young adults, we often think we’re invincible to online danger, especially because we’re such avid users of the Internet. However, danger can lurk in even the most familiar places. Facebook has a young demographic, and more than 83 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds who use the Internet are active on Facebook. But how seriously do we take our online privacy?

‘Take This Lollipop’ is a social experiment that plays on today’s carelessness of privacy in regards to social media. The website requires you to sign into your Facebook to start the experiment. It proceeds to take you into the world of a top tier stalker, who coincidentally is stalking your profile. The interactivity of the video puts your actual profile on the screen to simulate someone scrolling through your Facebook and tracking all the information he needs to find you. The content on your Facebook is used to make the video more personal and to scare the living daylights out of you. Ultimately, you are watching a mini horror episode starring you as the victim. The experiment is so seamless that you begin to contemplate whether someone is actually trying to find you or not.

“It’s incredible how affected I feel and how I’m about to go look through my privacy settings right now. I’ve heard of them always changing on Facebook and needing to be updated but I always say ‘Oh, I’ll do it later.’ Well, later is now. There’s creepers out there and this happens all the time so I need to stop being naive and start protecting myself online,” journalism junior Katie Higman said.

Undeclared freshman Samantha Kapinos said, “While Take This Lollipop is creepy in the moment, I think it should have done more to show people exactly how people can find you just based on your profile.”

This experiment would have been more effective if this experiment had broken down the motives and strategies predators use to gain the knowledge they need. Then again, stalkers sometimes don’t need motives to bring harm to Facebook users, and that’s what’s terrifying. People like this exist in the world and we’re vulnerable because of the misconception that extreme social media stalkers could never victimize us. As far as we’re concerned, dangerous stalkers are only heard in horror tales. Although the video does have its bugs, the message it’s trying to send is heard loud and clear: You never know who is looking at your profile.

My first reaction to this experiment was just like everyone else’s. My jaw dropped, I got exceptionally nervous and immediately went on Facebook and updated my privacy settings. We don’t realize how easy it is for the world to see what we post. A simple location check-in is a beacon to all Facebook predators signaling that you are an easy target. We’re so comfortable with sharing our information on any social media platform that we forget that the Internet is a dangerous place if you’re not careful. It’s so simple to update your privacy settings, but it’s often neglected. Many people have been victims of stalking, bullying and even fraud because they shared too much information on their social network sites thinking either no one reads their posts or they’re too unimportant to ever be stalked by someone dangerous. This is a huge wakeup call to Facebook users, myself included. People can’t afford to be careless with Internet privacy. Who knows, you could be the next person on a predator’s list of victims. You just don’t know it yet. Anyone has the potential to hurt you if you give them the right information online. Don’t become the person who shared a little too much of their life and ended up getting hurt. As we look back, the old childhood saying “don’t take candy from strangers” begins to resonate more than ever. Whether we know it or not, Facebook predators are just waiting for us to take this lollipop.