Oakman students hear social media risks

By NICOLE SMITH
Posted 4/20/19

OAKMAN — Students at Oakman Middle School learned of internet and social media dangers Thursday.Walker County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigator Matt Owens talked to students in Grades 4-8 …

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Oakman students hear social media risks

Posted

OAKMAN — Students at Oakman Middle School learned of internet and social media dangers Thursday.

Walker County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigator Matt Owens talked to students in Grades 4-8 about taking precautions while using social media.

When Owens asked the group of seventh and eighth graders if they had social media accounts, nearly every student raised his or her hand. When asked which social media sites they use the most, Snapchat and Instagram were the popular answers.

Owens spent the majority of his time discussing a case that involved using EXIF metadata, which is attached to some images to reveal the exact location where a photo was taken.

He told the true story of a 13-year-old girl who befriended who she thought to be a boy her age on Facebook. Little did she know, the man was in his 30s. Eventually, the man convinced the girl to give him her phone number, and she sent a random photo in her bedroom to the man.

Owens said the photograph gave the man everything he needed to know to track her down, even though she wasn't even in the picture, using EXIF metadata.

"It gives him not just the address, it gives him the exact longitude and latitude of where she was when she took that picture. He'll even know what corner of the house her bedroom is in," Owens said.

Once the girl sent him an image, he completely deleted his Facebook account. The man then traveled from California to where the girl lived in Nebraska. He stalked her, learned her routine and eventually established a timeframe when she would be home alone.    

"He broke in the house. Nobody was there to stop him. She was there by herself for only 30 minutes," he said.

Unfortunately, the girl was later found naked and deceased.

Owens also shared a story close to home, where someone realized a 15-year-old girl from Jasper was sending inappropriate images through Snapchat. Owens investigated the case and sent a search warrant to Snapchat to get her usage history.

"I was sent a letter personally by Snapchat saying, 'Be prepared for this one. This one's big,'" he said. "I extracted 5,000 images. Out of the 5,000 images, 3,000 of them were of her completely nude."

Owens said the girl had been sending the images to men of all ages, including the elderly, and she was charged with production, possession and dissemination of child pornography. Her actions landed her on the sex offender registry for 10 years.

Any images of someone 16 and under is considered child pornography, Owens said.

Other instances where lives were in jeopardy through internet usage  were shared by Owens, including the risks involved with online gaming. 

He urged all of the kids listening to be extremely cautious while using social media.

"You think it will be impossible that it will happen to you," Owens said, acknowledging the threats involved with an online presence. "Remember, internet safety is very important."

Owens shares his knowledge at other schools in Walker County as well, hoping to reach all youth about safe online practices.