‘People put children at great risk by sharing their photos online’

‘People put children at great risk by sharing their photos online’

Criminals use these photos for fraud, child pornography, child abuse, warns Turkish academic, advising parents to watch children

By Enes Taha Ersen

ISTANBUL (AA) – When people share photos of children on online platforms, it makes it possible for criminals to use those photos for fraud, child pornography, or even child abuse, warned a Turkish academic.

Mehmet Baris Horzum, a member of Sakarya University’s Department of Computer and Instructional Technology Education, told Anadolu about how dangerous it is to share children’s photos online and the technology behind “Deepfake.”

Deepfake brings together different voices and visuals to create manipulative content, Horzum said, adding: “We are actually talking about a technology that can be used for human benefit but, in today’s world, this is used in a way that puts people’s security and ethical values at risk.”

He stressed that Deepfake content is created by using visuals and personal data of real-life persons shared online, mentioning that “malicious” people see children as the weakest target, and reach their data through visuals mostly shared online by parents themselves.


- Digital footprints

Explaining that photos shared on online platforms create digital footprints that cannot be removed from the Internet for years, Horzum stated: “This puts children’s future, privacy and confidentiality of personal data in danger.”

Recalling a photo shared by Meta top manager Mark Zuckerberg in which his children’s faces were concealed, the academic stressed: “Him doing such a thing is worth attention as his company is among the mainstream media platforms.”

“It might be because of a personal choice or the concerns about the security of his children,” Horzum underlined, adding: “Social media is a platform open to various dangers.”

Drawing attention to the fact that when photos of children are shared by second users on social media platforms, they are also stuck in the algorithms of third users and data collectors, he noted that one can reach every single information about those children, including their school, class, school grades and even their personal phone numbers, by using these photos.

“Dark and criminal networks” in the digital environment use photos of children for the purpose of fraud, child pornography, and obtaining child abuse material, he underscored.

Emphasizing that photos and data of millions of children are shared online every year, Horzum warned that these photos are not only seen by relatives or people with good intentions but also by “dark networks” and pedophiles.


- Reaching out to children

He said that criminal networks on the Internet communicate with children through some social media accounts that appear to be producing content for them, as well as methods such as phishing.

“Malicious people are creating fake accounts and committing fraud with accounts belonging to children and families,” he stated.

“Although the photos you share do not directly serve this purpose, they deceive other children and lead to inappropriate photos of those children being taken and different children being abused.

“An innocent photo taken during a physical education lesson can be used for different purposes on the Internet,” he warned.

Touching on the fact that Deepfake technology is used in popular game platforms mostly visited by children, Horzum stated: “It is a dangerous attitude that families think every game is the same and do not care about the actual content.”

“These platforms, which include thousands of contents from sexually explicit games to games that are not appropriate for the child's age, must be regularly monitored by families.”


- Traumas for children

He also underlined that this situation, which can also appear as cyberbullying, blackmail, abuse, or fraud, can impede children’s personal and cognitive development.

"We see psychological effects such as wetting the bed at night, nightmares, depression at an early age, anxiety, self-esteem disorder, withdrawal, and traumatic stress disorders in victimized children,” he stressed, adding: “In advanced dimensions, we encounter cases of suicide.”

Besides monitoring the contents of games or applications used by children, parents should also seek professional guidance on the matter, he advised.

“Families should receive training on Internet safety from teachers or professionals and transfer this information to children in an appropriate way,” he stated.

“Every photo, every location, and every piece of information should not be shared on social media, and this should be told to children by families.

“Raising and increasing awareness is very important in the Internet use.”


*Writing by Merve Berker

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