Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, children are spending more time online than ever before, chatting on gaming platforms, posting selfies on Instagram and making TikTok videos for friends (and the rest of the world) to see.
But exploitation experts are worried about children’s newly robust online lives, and about the misconceptions their parents have about online safety. “With COVID, children are online even more, and predators know this,” said Charlene Doak-Gebauer, founder and chair of the Canadian charity Internet Sense First and the organization’s Anti Internet Child Exploitation Team.
Isolated for months now, tweens and teens are actively searching for online friends, often describing them as IBFs (Internet best friends), via TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and online games. The #IBF hashtag has more than 670 million views on TikTok, and variations of that hashtag on Instagram contain hundreds of thousands of posts.
Those who aren’t totally comfortable putting themselves out there on games, TikTok or Snapchat can turn to Reach — Internet Best Friends, a new app that received more than $5 million in funding. Reach connects anyone between the ages of 13 and 55 looking for an Internet best friend.
Others have met on somewhat new sites designed to connect people based on interest. Discord, for instance, is a site created five years ago for people to chat primarily about gaming, though its 100 million monthly active users also chat about everything from art to hiking.
Lily Wells, 15, of Illinois had been reading an article about Japanese anime, and she clicked on a link to Discord because she wanted to chat more about the topic.
“I met all these people my age who had the same interests as me,” she said. “They were all teenagers or a little older.”
Describing them as her Internet best friends, Wells said she talks to the group members, who live across the globe, on Discord for about an hour a day.
“It’s sort of like a coping mechanism,” she said. “Since we aren’t seeing anyone, we feel better talking to random strangers.”
Wells said she’s planning on meeting her Internet best friends, but not until they’re all 18, because they want to travel to Japan together when they’re all adults. For now, she hasn’t given her IBFs her real name or address.
For 12-year-old Emma, the online conversations began with “Fortnite.”
To read the full story by Danielle Braff on The New Hampshire Union Leader: Click HereTags: Online safety