The Dark Side of Social Media


So a bit of a disclaimer, this podcast episode is around the heavy topic of social media and the prevalence of sexual predators. There is content in these links and on the show that people may find distributing. Though it’s important to have these conversations with your kids, I recommend reading/listening on your own first.

On this week’s podcast, Penn and I talk to Roo Powell, who is a personal friend and leads the Special Projects Team at Bark Technologies. Bark is a monitoring service that uses artificial intelligence to look for signs of cyberbullying, self-harm and sexual predation on underage phones. With the help of law enforcement, Roo recently took on a unique assignment of posing as a young girl on social media to show what truly happens on the internet. (You may have read about her work under the name Sloan Ryan.) As you can imagine, the results were horrifying. In brief, innocuous messages turned into manipulation and grooming in a matter of minutes. Inappropriate photos were shared. To raise more awareness, Bark even put together a 9-minute mini-documentary to show their undercover work, including meeting a predator in-person. You can watch the video here.

Having an Open Dialogue

Roo’s story is absolutely powerful and eye-opening, whether you are a parent or not. Penn and I make our living on the internet, so we know it can be both a beautiful place and terrifying abyss. After reading the story, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lola, our 13-year-old who becomes more and more independent every day. As much as I would love to block all access to this happening, I know that is not the answer. I need Lola to have her phone so I can communicate with her and I know having these accounts to share with her friends is an important part of her life. The best thing you can do is have open and honest communication with your kids. Let them know you are a safe place for them to share. 

Roo shared that in her years at Bark, harmful predators contacted kids regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status, or background. It’s important to remember that even if your child’s account is private, it does not stop a stranger from messaging them. Plus, switching between private and public is a push of a button that your kid could be pressing at any moment.  

I know this is a heavy topic that we don’t usually cover on the podcast, but I believe this work is so important. After Roo shared her story, she received thousands of emails from survivors and parents that felt validated and released from the shame. In 2019, Bark identified 300 sexual predators for law enforcement. If you want to learn more about what Bark does or read some helpful tips on how to talk to your kids about this, I recommend this blog post.

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