By Susan Norris

Do you have a Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram? Social media has become as common a way to communicate with people as cellphones these days. You can find me on FacebookTwitter, and Google+ pretty easily. I’m even on Linkedin. I like to stay in touch with friends and family across the globe, as well as people I meet through my ministry.

Working to raise awareness of sex trafficking in America and walking life out with survivors has taught me the importance of being careful on social media. Too many times, people share far more than they realize on social media. I’m not only cautious about what I share on my pages, but I pay close attention to what my followers share. I’ve been known to send a private message to a teenage friend and strongly suggest the removal of a picture or a post.

I had one student post the following message on Facebook:

Hey! I’m home alone and bored.  Someone call or text me.”

Then she proceeded to post her cellphone number. I nearly had a stroke. I couldn’t call her fast enough and tell her to take the post off of her wall immediately and go to a neighbor’s house until one of her parents came home. The only thing she didn’t give a trafficker was her street address, and trust me, it wouldn’t have been difficult to locate based on all of the information she’d previously shared on her wall.

You may think your posts are secure, but people you don’t know can gain access to your posts if they want to bad enough. It’s always open season on social media to predators. The trafficking industry is a 32 billion dollar a year industry. The estimated life expectancy of a victim caught in the trade is seven years; however, during that time she could generate up to seven million dollars for her captor.  That’s incentive enough for a predator to find a way onto your social media page.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” [NIV]

So how do you do that? The same way a home owner does with regard to a burglar… you make yourself a difficult and risky target.

Here are five steps to help you:

  1. Don’t post pictures of yourself in swimsuits, revealing clothing, or suggestive poses on social media (this includes the pouty lips that are sometimes referred to as fish lips everyone loves). Traffickers are constantly looking for girls (and boys) to recruit by perusing pictures. In many cases, they will use a picture from social media for their advertisements on Backpage.com or other sites. This way, if taken into custody, they can honestly say they did not take the picture of the victim, weakening the authorities’ case against them.
  2. Only accept people as friends or followers on social media if you know them personally. Everyone likes being popular, even on the internet. Traffickers use this to their advantage. Many people will accept anyone as a friend or follower, even if they don’t know them. You cannot assume if they are a friend of a friend, they’re safe. Your safety is up to you. Be smart!
  3. Never post where you’re going on social media, only post where you’ve been. If you routinely go somewhere each week, like Thursday night dance class, don’t mention it. If someone manages to gain access to your page, you don’t want them to be able to track your every move by following your posts. If you post where you’re going, it’s like handing a trafficker a road map of how to find you.
  4. Be careful when posting photos and comments on social media from your smartphone. By doing so, you may be sharing your location without being aware of it. Contact your cellphone provider to determine how to turn this feature off on your phone.
  5. Don’t engage in conversations with people you don’t know on social media. Even if someone cannot gain access to your page, they can still send you a private message. Traffickers are very savvy and pull information out of people without them even realizing it. You won’t know the person is a trafficker until it’s too late. Don’t take the risk. Avoid responding and tell a trusted adult about the person trying to connect with you.  They’ll be able to help navigate you to safety.

For more safety tips, visit my website.

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Do what you can to educate yourself on the issue and share what you know with others. You can make a difference. Raise your voice for hope.

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