Social media and the internet, as well as other networking technologies, provide traffickers the ability to connect with potential victims. Traffickers utilize friends of friends and word-of-mouth to identify and target youth in vulnerable situations. Traffickers are also able to manipulate potential victims’ lives in “real-time” by utilizing technology to text or share and tag photos on social networking sites.

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At least 105,000 children in the U.S. are being sexually exploited, according to the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the expanding underground industry has no intention of slowing down. The FBI considers sex trafficking the fastest-growing organized crime, and online channels allowing for the exploitation are only making it easier for predators to do business.

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The country’s first prosecution of an online trafficking syndicate was in 2010. The traffickers posted photos of children on Facebook, and customers booked them through chat rooms like Yahoo Messenger or mIRC. The children were sold for $45 to $60.

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THE DANGERS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Tumblr

Tumblr is a website and app that says it "lets you effortlessly share anything" and that includes texts, videos, photos, links, you name it. The wide range of content is part of what makes Tumblr unique. It is a cross between a social network and a microblogging site. Here's what parents need to know about Tumblr:

Common Sense Media says "[p]ornographic images and video, depictions of violence and drug use, and offensive language are easy to find," and rates it as most appropriate for those ages 15 and older. They go on to say that Tumblr "promises good, naughty fun for the under-30 crowd, but parents should think twice about letting minors join." That porn is readily available is one of the biggest parental concerns about the site.

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Tinder

Tinder's developers describe the app as "the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you." But it's mainly used as a dating tool or an anonymous hook-up (read: one-night stand) locator by 20-somethings, college students, and even younger teens and tweens. (Yikes!) The app is rated ages 17+ but Tinder's privacy policy allows teens as young as 13 to register (the app connects with Facebook which is also technically for ages 13+ to pull in photos for users' Tinder profiles). Tinder helps people find others in their geographic location and allows users to view each others' photos and start instant messaging once both people have "liked" one another. The geolocation features and anonymous nature of the app put kids at risk for catfishing, sexual harassment, stalking, and worse.

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Yik Yak

Yik Yak is pretty loosey-goosey. The producers of this app call it "the anonymous social wall for anything and everything." All users are anonymous (registration requires no personal information, other than a user's location), and their posts are called "Yaks" and show up in a live feed for other users or "Yakkers" in their area. The app's content-generation and moderation are entirely in the hands of its users (who can "vote" posts up or down in the news feed; after two "down" votes, a Yak disappears). The app is rated ages 17+ and targets college students, who can use it to spread the word about parties and events or share their thoughts. But younger users are easily getting their hands on the app and using it to post hurtful comments and rumors about their peers.

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Kik

Kik is a mobile app that people can use to text with friends at high speed and with more of a "face-to-face feel" than regular texting (users' profile pictures appear in a little bubble next to their text, and they can quickly text photos, sketches, or even pre-designed greeting cards to individuals or groups). The app is rated ages 17+, but there is no age verification so anyone can download it. Like some other instant messenger apps, Kik allows your teen to connect with others using just a username (rather than texting from her phone number). But it begs the question: Should teens be texting with people beyond their phone contacts? Reviews in the App Store and Google Play store reveal that many people use Kik to meet strangers for sexting. The app has also been connected with cyberbullying.

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Voxer

This walkie-talkie PTT (push-to-talk) app allows users to quickly exchange short voice messages. They can have chats going on with multiple people at a time and just have to tap the play button to hear any messages they receive. Although it largely has an adult following, including some people who use it for their job, it's becoming popular among teens who enjoy its hybrid style of texting and talking. Hurtful messages from cyberbullies can be even more biting when they're spoken and can be played repeatedly. Surprisingly, the app is rated ages 4+ in the App Store.

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Snap Chat

Snapchat is the social media app for smartphones and computers that allows users to send pictures and videos that is unique in that it claims the images exist only 10 seconds or less before "disappearing."  The fact that the images supposedly don't live forever is what has propelled Snapchat to popularity, with 30 million messages a day. It is especially popular with tweens and teens.  Turns out, though, that despite Snapchat's claims, the messages do not just disappear.

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After School

After School App is a popular free app, with 75% of high schools having pages and millions of teens using it, all anonymously and there are some issues with it. How it works:

High schools have message boards and posts can be made only by students at that school. The app verifies that the user is a student via Facebook. Posts are made anonymously with no names, and no adults are allowed.

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Whisper

Whisper is a free social networking app available for iPhone and Android and website that encourages users to share secrets. The app was originally intended and first became popular on college campuses, but like many trends, it has trickled down to a younger crowd. It is becoming popular with tweens, and it is something parents absolutely need to know about because it can be unsafe.

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Ask.fm

This app allows users to interact in a question-and-answer format with friends, peers, and anonymous users alike. The app is rated ages 13+ and is most popular in Europe but is catching on in the U.S. Some kids have used the app for hurtful cyberbullying that has been linked to suicides, including the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Florida.

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