The sudden shift to remote work has forced millions of individuals and families to set aside their daily routines and quickly adapt to self-isolating measures to stay safe amid the pandemic
While social distancing helped us flatten the curve, the unprecedented spike in online consumption has opened new doors of exploitation for adults and children alike.
Adults are not the only ones susceptible to the dangers of online exposure. During the stay-at-home orders, millions of children have stored away their backpacks and school gear, participating in online courses along with their teachers and classmates.
While the virtual environment helps teachers and parents struggling to maintain a balanced day-to-day schedule for children, it also serves as a malicious vector for the cyber exploitation of children.
In the first two months of spring, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension observed a 30% increase in cyber-crimes against children. On top of more than 1,000 complaints received by the agency, The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recorded more than 6 million tips during the same period.
While the sudden spike in numbers can be attributed to the increased screen time for minors, John Shehan, the vice-president of NCMEC, says that online predators are discussing their intentions to exploit the lockdown orders on the dark web.
Law enforcement agencies also warn of the dangers of online chatrooms, where an adult may pose as a teenager and manipulate the recipient into sending indecent photos, ultimately blackmailing the child by threatening to expose his actions to his parents or teachers.
“Parents are stretched so thin and asked to do so much right now,” said Minnesota U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. “It just leads to a very target-rich environment for kids to be preyed upon.”
Parents and caretakers should be the first to start an honest conversation with their children and warn them about the risks they face in the online world, she said.
Parents are advised to keep an eye on their children’s online profiles and monitor their posting patterns. It’s also a good idea to set privacy settings for social media accounts and online gaming platforms. If your little one is more of a night owl, it’s best to try and limit online consumption during late hours or, at least, supervise their interactions.