Are We Sharing Too Much Information Online?

By Judge Tom Jacobs

Simply put, yes we do – especially tweens and teens. Because the Internet is global, potentially anonymous and always on, the temptation to inflate one’s profile or create a different persona is great. However, the more details revealed to a digital stranger increases the likelihood of a negative experience. A few cases in point are illustrative.

Emily met Frank Gamez in an online chat room. She said she was 18 and Frank told her he was 21. Emily was living with her uncle in New Mexico but didn’t like it there. They agreed to meet when Frank promised to take her home to her mother in Texas. When he picked her up, they drove to Arizona where they stayed for several months. Frank turned on Emily when she became pregnant, threatening to hurt her and the baby if she “ever ratted him out.” A tip to the police led to Frank’s arrest. Emily was turned over to child protective services. In July, 2011, Frank’s conviction and sentence were upheld. Frank was actually 37-years-old while Emily was 13. He received a 32-year prison term for sexual conduct with a minor.

George Bronk, age 21, lived at home with his parents in California. He spent much of his time trolling Facebook pages of teen girls and women. Information posted on users pages provided him with clues to the security questions asked to enter someone’s e-mail account. Once he had the information he needed, he hacked into the girls’ accounts looking for sexual photos sent to their boyfriends.

George then sent the photos to the girls’ contact lists that included their friends and family members.  Girls in 17 states were victimized. Bronk pled guilty to numerous charges and was sentenced in 2011 to four years in prison. The judge commented “This case serves as a stark example of what occurs in so-called cyberspace. It has very real consequences. The intrusion of one’s profile is no different than intruding one’s home.”

Other cases have resulted in tragedy for teens and their families.  Ashleigh Hall was 17-years-old when she met Peter Cartwright on Facebook. She was attracted by a picture of a young, bare-chested man and agreed to meet him. She told her mother she was going to stay with a friend when she left home in 2009.

Cartwright was not the 17-year-old Ashleigh read about on Facebook. He was really a 33-year-old convicted sex offender named Peter Chapman. He told Ashleigh that his father would pick her up near her home – a trick to get her into his car. Chapman raped and strangled Ashleigh.  He buried her in a farmer’s field. The next day he was arrested and admitted the killing, leading authorities to Ashleigh’s body. He pleaded guilty and in March, 2010, was sent to prison for life.

In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier became friends with 16-year-old Josh Evans on MySpace. After a month of flirting, Josh wrote it was over and that “The world would be a better place without her.” That night Megan hanged herself. It turned out that Josh wasn’t real – he was the creation of an adult neighbor who befriended her online to obtain information about Megan’s relationship with her daughter.

Although these are extreme cases, they are real and affected many people. Privacy settings are not full-proof. What you put on your profile can be accessed by predators. Do you need 1,000 “friends” to know your every move and meal? “Think B4 U Send” about possible consequences to yourself and your family.

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