The information revolution has most definitely arrived on the Bay Islands. The internet, smart phones and social media are transforming island culture, as they have throughout the world. Never before have humans had so much information at their fingertips or found it so easy to communicate instantaneously with people around the corner or around the world.
Social Times In, which tracks social media trends in more than 200 countries, reports there were 880,000 people accessing the internet on smart phones in Honduras as of mid-June. On the Bay Islands, there were more than 15,000 Facebook users, of which 13,200 were on Roatan, 1,220 on Utila and 900 on Guanaja.
Brian T. Blackwell, a former Illinois deputy sheriff who now lives in Oak Ridge, worries that the rapid introduction of these technologies on the Bay Islands may have “bad consequences” if they are not “approached appropriately and responsibly.” He thinks islanders are vulnerable because of their lack of knowledge and experience with the internet.
“People need to be warned of possible threats and dangers that lurk at the tips of their fingers,” he said.
Sophisticated internet users are well aware of the risks of putting too much detailed personal information online in ways that strangers can access it. Dishonest people can use our information to perpetrate financial scams or to embarass us. Blackwell, however, is concerned about another potential risk – sexual predators.
Blackwell said an estimated 5 million sexual predators are surfing the internet. Most target girls over 12, but about a quarter of their victims are boys. Some just want to collect sexually explicit images to share with other perverts. But others will go to great lengths, including crossing borders, to meet their victims in person. Meanwhile, he said, studies show Facebook is becoming the top place where kids congregate, and only 13 percent of parents monitor their children’s Facebook activity.
Clicks Agency reported that 45 percent of Honduras’s 1.3 million Facebook users were 13-21, and 52 percent were women. Social Times In reported 184,000 Honduran girls aged 13-18 and 240,000 women aged 18-25 were on Facebook.
Blackwell became worried when he noticed many Facebook users on Roatan accept “friend” requests without reviewing the profiles of the requestors. He took it upon himself to investigate.
With the permission of a young island woman, he examined her Facebook profile and those of each of her “friends,” then monitored one of her conversations with a suspected predator. He was “deeply concerned” with what he found.
“I am discovering many profiles of men that are accumulating ‘friends’ that consist only of lone Bay Islands women and girls,” said Blackwell. “This alarms me greatly!”
Some of these men had their photo albums “blocked” or “locked,” leading Blackwell to suspect they contained sexually explicit images. He suspects these men are seeking sexual liaisons with gullible young women on the islands.
Blackwell said that he had done similar investigations on other Caribbean islands and that the suspected predator activity he found on Roatan was “unprecedented.”
Blackwell said internet predators usually do not make their profiles viewable, or if they do, they misrepresent themselves, sometimes pretending to be children or women (almost all predators are men). He said a predator will typically “groom” a victim by building trust, being charming, and using an interest indicated on the target’s profile to start a conversation. He may pretend to be a supportive friend, the only one who really understands. Flattery and gifts may follow. He will usually ask the target to keep their relationship secret.
“Predators will ask a lot of questions about you and your friends, building up vast amounts of information to use to reach his ultimate goal of coming to visit you,” said Blackwell. “He usually starts by asking for a phone number so his conversations can’t be traced on a computer.”
Blackwell is concerned internet predators could be compiling lists of “targets” on the Bay Islands to come down and “meet,” then “hop back on a plane and fly home.” The “best case” for the target in such a liaison, he said, is that the predator will “promise you everything you want,” get “everything he wants from you” and give you “nothing in return except maybe his STDs.” The “worst case,” he said, is that “your ‘friend’ comes to Honduras, finds you, torments you, rapes you and maybe even leaves you for dead.”
Such predators will typically delete their Facebook profiles before coming down, he said, so they cannot be traced. Then they will create a new profile and start the whole process over again.
To guard against internet sexual predators, Blackwell recommends the following guidelines for using social media:
DO NOT blindly accept a “friend” request without reviewing the requestor’s profile.
DO NOT give out details about where you live. Just say “Bay Islands.”
DO NOT give anyone your phone number or email address unless you know them.
DO NOT supply the time and place you may be somewhere, like a party.
DO NOT lead someone on by flirting if you do not personally know them.
DO “lock out” your personal information and limit it to people you personally know.
DO, if you have a conversation with someone you don’t know, pay attention to what they are saying. Beware of requests for detailed personal information about you or your friends. If a “red flag” goes up, end the conversation, and if he keeps troubling you, “unfriend” him, report him to the site’s administrator and warn your friends about him immediately!
DO beware of people with sexually suggestive screen names.
DO beware of people who are “awkwardly nice,” agree with you on basically everything and seek to drive a wedge between you and your family and friends. These are common tactics of an online predator.
DO say “No!” to anyone who asks to come meet you. If you say “yes,” a predator can use that as a legal defense.
DO, when in doubt about the motives of an unknown “friend,” “unfriend” him. If he keeps trying to contact you, block him.
DO, if you suspect a predator is trying to prey on you, tell someone you trust or an authority figure immediately.
DO take the internet seriously! It is a valuable tool, but it can be an extremely dangerous and evil place if not used correctly and responsibly!
Blackwell has created a Facebook page with information on internet predators: