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Students these days are immersed in digital social media, but they — and their parents — might not be prepared to deal with its dark side. And the dark side can be pretty bad.

Retired police detective Richard Wistocki speaks to H-F students on Friday, Dec. 7, about the perils of the perils of the social media world, how to avoid them and what to do when encountering bad people. (Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
  During a recent presentation 
at H-F High School, retired
  police detective Richard
  Wistocki offered 
students tips
  for avoiding danger on 
(Photos by Eric Crump/
  H-F Chronicle)

That was the message delivered by retired police detective Richard Wistocki, president of BeSure Consulting, who spoke to student assemblies Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, his second recent visit to the school.

He focused much of his talk on one of the biggest dangers teens face, which is “sextortion,” or the threat to use sexual images of young people to exploit them.

He gave several examples from his 25 years of experience investigating internet crimes against children to show how easily images sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend can fall into the wrong hands and be used as a means to ensnare victims.

One refrain during his talk: “This doesn’t happen somewhere else.”

He brought that message home when he showed a video clip from a Chicago TV station report aired last year about Anon-IB, a site that traded in nude photos, including those of high school students.

The report noted that students from 67 Chicago-area schools were represented on the site. When the H-F logo flashed on the screen, there was an audible groan from the students in the Mall Auditorium.

If a gang member or sexual predator gets access to nude photos, they can be used to coerce young people into doing things they wouldn’t do otherwise, including the sex trade, Wistocki said.

Students raise their hands when presenter Richard Wistocki asks which social media platforms they use.
  Students raise their hands
  when presenter Richard
  Wistocki asks which social
  media platforms they use. 


“Sex trafficking is a huge business, especially for gangs,” he said. “The gangs are making so much money on this.”

That’s not the only consequence, he noted. College admissions staff these days routinely examine students’ social media activity to see whether there is evidence of problems that compromise a student’s chances of being accepted.

“What you do today will affect your future,” he said.

He offered some advice for parents and students to help students stay safe in the social media world. 

  1. Watch for red flag behavior. If you’re in a public gaming area and someone suggests moving to a private video chat, beware. “They are not who they say they are,” he said.
  2. Don’t trust anyone unless you can verify their first and last name, their school, their phone number and where they live. Don’t take their word for it. 
  3. If you find yourself in an exchange with someone who tries to coerce you, get screen captures of the interaction, note the site, profile and user ID of the person and report the incident to parents or guardians and to law enforcement. He suggested not reporting the incident to the site’s abuse line if it will be reported to law enforcement, because sites often delete accounts of policy violators, destroying evidence police need for an investigation.
He cautioned parents against punishment-based methods of enforcing good behavior on social media. When parents threaten to confiscate devices and otherwise punish kids who get in trouble online, students are less likely to seek their help if they find themselves in a bad situation. That leaves students even more vulnerable to predators, he said.

He challenged the students present to take charge of their digital presence and stand up to peer pressure. He said 60 percent of sextortionists are someone the victim knows.

“If someone says, ‘You owe me one pic,’ you say, ‘I don’t owe you jack!'” Wistocki said.

He also urged them to help their parents and, in the process, help any younger siblings they might have.

“Your parents are not as savvy as you,” he said. “They need your help to keep your little brothers and sisters safe.”

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