The Cyber Chronicles | Episode 4 – Pete, Tweet & Repeat

Social Media Safety.

Even though all of these articles cover serious topics, we’ve been trying to have a little fun with the process, but today I’m being very serious. The issue we’re going to discuss and the story I’m going to tell you are no joke.

On Monday we discussed the need to change how we think about information, so in a way this article is a continuation of that conversation, but we’re going to focus in on social media as a completely out of control information sieve that threatens our lives in multiple ways.

Let’s begin by admitting that most of us are not really up to speed on social media. We may think we know what our kids are doing, we may be really hip and use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but check out the following list of social media apps. How many did you even know existed?


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Why should we be concerned about this? Let’s talk about Elizabeth.

So far as I can tell Elizabeth’s story was first told by the boyfriend of her sister, Amy, in a Reddit chat room about a year ago. Elizabeth was 13, her mom was an ER nurse at Grady Health System. They lived outside the Little Five Points neighborhood in Atlanta. Unfortunately, because of the nature of her job, Elizabeth’s mom was often unavailable via phone. One night the oldest sister, Amy, who attended the University of Georgia an hour and a half away in Athens, received a call from an hysterical Elizabeth. Here’s what had happened.

Elizabeth liked using the video sharing app Periscope, in fact, she had built up quite a few followers, and typically had 10-20 people watching her at any given time. She would broadcast for two to three hours a day, leaving the camera on to record her normal life: doing her homework or putting on makeup. She would frequently interact with her various followers, and while there are always creeps on Periscope, she could easily block them. One follower was always there but never said anything; this person followed no one else, and never broadcast any video of their own. If Elizabeth began broadcasting, however, within a minute this person would join her feed, but never commented, and never responded to any of her attempts to draw them out.

One night while broadcasting painting her nails, she was being watched only by the silent user. Once again, she tried to draw them out, sending messages of smiley faces, asking various questions, all to no response. Finally, she went to bed but kept checking Periscope, wondering if anyone else would join her feed. Suddenly, she received a message from the silent watcher:

“Is your mom still at Grady?”

Elizabeth’s Periscope username wasn’t linked to her Facebook or anything else, and location sharing was turned off. How could this person know where her Mom worked, and that she was at work tonight?! Feeling panicked, Elizabeth instantly ended her broadcast.

A few minutes later she received a notification. The silent watcher was broadcasting for the first time ever. Elizabeth clicked to watch and saw a shaky video feed of the outside of her house! With growing horror she saw the camera view shift downward and become not just creepy but indecent.


We’re not ready for the intrusive reality of social media. Few of us carefully monitor the information we unwittingly reveal on social media, let alone know precisely what our kids are doing on their smart phones, tablets, or Macbooks. How many of the above list of apps (and there are so many more I could have listed) is your child using? Do you have their username and password for each account? To their phone or tablet? Do you have an account on every social media platform they use, so you can monitor whether they’re safe?

If not, here’s where to start. Maintain a conversational relationship with your child, use your social media accounts as an example and discuss why you never mention that you’re “heading to McCall,” or that you can’t wait to attend the Owl City concert, etc. Discuss the difference between people we actually know, and people we only know through their online presentation of themselves.

10 Ideas to Help Keep You and Your Loved One’s Safe Online

  1. Stop thinking you have nothing worth a cyber-criminal’s interest.
  2. Stop your bad password habits.
  3. Use multi-factor authentication for all accounts.
  4. Put at least six-character pins on smart phones and tablets.
  5. Make sure you as a parent have the codes to your children’s device and their accounts.
  6. Educate yourself, your parents, and your kids on common scams.
  7. Review every app or platform’s privacy settings, and discuss the danger of connections from third-party apps (reference the recent Facebook and Google hacks, directly related to third-party authentication).
  8. Conduct intra-family tabletop exercises or “war games,” and attempt to theoretically compromise (hacking or physical breaches) each other on the basis of information revealed in each person’s online presence.
  9. Conduct True or False exposés where each member of the family gets to reveal whether a popular meme or “news” story is misleading or reliable.
  10. Limit children’s online “friends” to 200. Research focused particularly on middle school kids indicates that cyber bullying and other negative encounters rise exponentially after the accumulation of 200 “friends.” Consider limiting your child’s online friends to those who they have or would consider touching on the shoulder – this will likely be less than 200 people.

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