The internet can be a dangerous place, especially for young children.
A 10-year-old girl from Prestwick, South Ayrshire, Scotland, found this out firsthand while using a social media app called Amino. Cahla McGarry received a private message while using the app, requesting a topless photo for “security.”
The Sun reports:
The message told Cahla the group is a ‘safe space for girls under 14’ and she would have to send a topless photo to prove she met the guidelines – or else she would be ‘permanently banned’.
But mum and secondary school teacher Nicola McGarry, 41, who has strict parental controls on all of Cahla’s devices, regularly warns her daughter of the dangers of speaking to strangers online.
And instead of replying to the ‘sickening’ message, savvy schoolgirl Cahla immediately showed it to her mum.
The widowed mum-of-one, of Prestwick, South Ayrshire, Scotland, says this incident highlights how easy it is for ‘predators to slip through the net’.
Nicola said: “I was scared. It felt as if they had intruded into our home. Although it’s probably someone thousands of miles away, it really felt like an intrusion into our privacy.
Cahla was playing another app called Gacha Life in which players can create avatars, play games, and share stories using their avatars. Because she loves the game so much she decided to join a Gacha Life forum on the Amino app to connect to other players and share her character.
Sadly, this is the point in Cahla’s story where she could have been spared this trauma.
Amino is a social networking app designed to connect like-minded people on a variety of topics. According to Protect Young Eyes, those topics can be as innocent as cats, skateboarding, or vegan recipes, or as inappropriate as “Asian Girls,” “LGBT+,” “Pansexual,” or “Sexy RP” (role play). To be clear, sexual predators are opportunists and even children’s apps always have the potential to be abused by predators looking to exploit young, naïve children, but one could argue that children as young as Cahla should never have been allowed to use an app like Amino in the first place.
Thankfully, Cahla knew something was not right and told her mother instead of being intimidated into compliance by the sick message, which read:
“Welcome to this amino group. My name is Mandy and I work with amino.
So if you don’t know this is a safe space for young girls. We require users to be 14 and younger. If you fit these requirements you can be here.
We also have to make sure that all members here are girls. To verify this I will need from you a photo of your bare chest (with a bra on if you feel uncomfortable) and age.
This is just an extra security feature but all members must do this. Users that refuse to do this will be permanently banned”
It’s so easy for predators to demand compliance when they employ intimidating threats, such as banning a young child from an app. What 10-year-old wants to be “permanently banned” from any app? It’s scary to think about how many young girls may have actually complied with this sick request before Cahla exposed what was going on.
According to The Sun, an Amino spokesperson said, “Keeping Amino safe is our top priority. We have zero-tolerance for any type of inappropriate contact with minors. Our team works 24/7 across seven supported languages to remove content and users in violation of our policies.” The representative went on to say they were not able to discuss this particular case but that they “report all incidents of child sexual exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children” and that they “fully cooperate with law enforcement agencies” when necessary.
If you’re going to allow your children access to the internet, their safety on the web should be your top priority. You cannot assume these things only happen to other kids or that they are rare, isolated incidents. Sexual predators use the internet to seek out mass numbers of children to exploit and abuse and any child on the internet assumes this risk. Parents must be vigilant.
Teach your children not to talk to strangers on the internet, ever. Take advantage of the myriad resources available to ensure their online safety. Don’t be afraid to go through their phones and smart devices to check up on their activity and the apps they use. It is not an invasion of privacy to ensure their safety. Parents need to face the reality that this is the world we live in and you cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting your children.
Cahla did the right thing when faced with an unusual online message, would your child do the same?
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