Skip to content

Is college the cure for Facebook safety concerns?

by Neal O'Farrell on April 30th, 2013

apathyblog“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Wise words that have served over the centuries and could still be invoked today in our attempts to figure out why so many parents still seem to be so apathetic when it comes to the safety of their own kids.

One question that I’ve probably been asked over the years by worried parents more than any other, is “How do I protect my kids on (or from) Facebook?” And top of the list of my recommendations to these parents has always been that they should start by creating their own Facebook page.

It’s simple advice and an easy fix. By going through the process of creating their own Facebook page, parents will get a much better understanding of how Facebook works, how their kids can be exposed, and how to use Facebook’s own security and safety options to limit the risks to their kids. And if they persuade, or force, their kids to be their friend, even better. At the very least it should help dilute some of the guilt parents feel when they allow their kids to roam Facebook world un-chaperoned.

So how many of these parents over the years have taken to heart at least that one piece of advice? As far as I’m aware, none. Case in point – I recently spoke to one friend I had given this advice to more than four years ago. She has a son and a daughter – the son had just created his own Facebook page and her daughter, although just twelve at the time, was pestering Mom to be allowed “to Facebook.”

When I asked her recently if she ever got around to creating her own Facebook page, she said she hadn’t. She was just too busy. And besides, her son was off to college now, was much more mature, and so the danger had passed. And he said he didn’t use Facebook much anymore because most of his friends were too busy to check in. If his friends were no longer on Facebook, there was no need for him to be there.

I guess that’s one way to deal with danger. Stand your ground, even plant your head firmly in it, cross your fingers, and hope the danger will pass you without noticing you. Like the Wildebeest in the center of the herd.

It reminded me of a similar experience more than a decade ago, when I led an innovate program called Think Security First, a unique experiment by an entire city to make cybersecurity awareness a top priority for the city for an entire year.

Identity theft, online predators, and child safety were major media headlines at the time, so we organized a town-hall meeting at a local school to introduce parents to a team of experts we had assembled to help teach parents and kids about these risks.

The event was heavily promoted and backed by the city council, Chamber of Commerce, school district and many others. It was promoted to dozens of local schools that in turn invited more than 10,000 parents. We picked a location, date, and time that local school principals advised us would make it easiest for the most parents to attend.

We also picked a school that was central to everyone, had plenty of free parking, and had a fantastic auditorium that could seat 400. We hoped that four hundred seats would be enough, especially because the FBI had sent one of their top experts from the Innocent Images task force who had some startling and eye-opening research to share with parents.

We also had the support of the Mayor and the Police Chief, who were there to remind parents just how seriously the city viewed the issue of child safety, and how it was up to all of us to work together to protect each other.

In total, about twenty people showed up. Out of nearly 10,000 invited. And at least half of those were our own volunteers and supporters.

It’s just a reminder that the biggest ally for cybercriminals is the apathy and indifference of their targets, and that cybercrime and identity theft continue to surge because so many consumers won’t get involved in their own protection. Even if it’s very simple and uncomplicated. And it’s also a reminder that things will probably never change – they certainly haven’t in the last ten years.

Or maybe parents were right and experts like me were over-thinking the dangers. After so many years on Facebook, many kids just outgrew it. There’s growing evidence that kids are abandoning Facebook in their millions so at the very least that reduces the number of potential victims, right? And maybe the best way to dodge the dangers is to simply hide in the middle of the herd and hope that by blending in, you won’t be singled out.

Maybe after thirty years in security I should think about changing my focus. Instead of researching the cure for insecurity, I should pursue the cure for apathy. Even if I know there probably isn’t one. The triumph of evil quote was originally pinned on Plato, more than 2,000 years ago. So I guess human nature is constant enough to be its own worst enemy.

From → Editorial