Thursday, December 10, 2009

Power of online social networking to keep community safe

Throwing sheep and retweeting gossip are examples of uses of social networking. Spreading awareness is another. A recent challenge by DARPA proved just that

A group of students at MIT demonstrated that utilizing social networking in even a short period of time they could win the challenge. They employed the idea of prize sharing to do it. Contributing a portion of the $40,000 to anyone with valid information. They spread word they were doing it through twitter, facebook, myspace and other social networking sites. Friends told others on their networks and within hours MIT had won.

If the DARPA balloons were instead a missing child and the prize- community safety, wouldn’t it be great? Does the prize have to be monetary to encourage action by others?
Amber alerts are already a useful example of how this method is working. Now with E-STOP (The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act ) laws passing in a number of states we can use social networking tools to prevent criminals from committing crimes. People are encouraged to report on registered sex offenders who have an online presence. (details in previous blog post)

Is there anyone on your facebook/twitter that seems too good to be true?

Maybe their posts frequently don’t seem truthful or exaggerate things that are ridiculous?

They have listed employment you can't connect them to?

Are they name dropping individuals you could verify these details with?
Ask around. Maybe there is an explanation.

Many questionable people are using the internet to build new lives more in line with their fantasies and less in line with who they really are, often fleeing probation restrictions and other legal obligations.

These impostors are doing this to invade your community. You could be part of what is enabling them to fit in, using their association with you to make others feel comfortable around them when they normally wouldn’t belong. It’s your good character, network of friends and public information that is making it possible.

Do friends who also have this person listed really know them, followed them based on “people you may know” feature or because they were contacted by this individual?

Maybe others have the same doubts you do but were apprehensive to say anything?

Does anyone really know this person dating back farther than a short period of time or on a limited basis?

Do they seem to latch onto the idea of utilizing your contacts or paying special attention to you that makes you uncomfortable?

Are they attributing a greater connection to you than is comfortable?

Even if you can’t put a specific reason to why this person’s interactions bother you, that you feel unease at all is telling. Follow your instincts.
Check up on what you know about them, google is very useful. Your own network of friends in chat rooms, blog communities and social networking is the most useful.

Here are just a few examples of people that would have been caught sooner had others around them asked a few more questions,0,6335281.story,0,3817347.story

How well do you really know the people you gave access to your friends, family and co-workers?
Would you feel comfortable leaving them in your home unobserved? With your children, your gun collection, your valuables?
They can see all your hobbies and private family moments, but you may only be seeing a fictitious view they want you to see. Generally, that is the view of a wealthy, successful, family oriented person.

Do you personally know anyone who has seen their home? Not an “online” friend, someone you know beyond the cover of a computer screen or phone.
If you answered “no” there may be a reason why.
If it’s “yes”, were expectations in line with what they actually saw; homes, wealth, cars, family?

People easily forget most online interactions enable you to know only what someone wants you to. That’s what is so appealing. Thanks to the internet the line between “stranger” and “friend “ is blurred.

Someone tells you about previous experiences like employment or hobbies because they want you to know it. How often do people really check these statements? Generally, not until after a problem alerts them. Sometimes, not even then because they fear being wrong. Everyone is waiting for someone else to come forward.

Some online interactions could have less than decent intentions. That these “friends” utilize you for job and personal references with the goal of burying their previous lives under their new identity.

You can protect yourself from these types of people by asking yourself how well you really know them.

Can you vouch for their history enough that you can confirm without hesitation they were never incarcerated? Would it matter to you if you were wrong? What if it were a violent crime?

Look through who they consider “good friends.” How far back do these references know them? Do you know anyone who went to school with them? Worked in a job with them? Dated someone in their family?

Most people are surrounded by an assortment of friends from all stages in their life; childhood, career, school, neighbors, family, religion, etc. If a large portion of their life isn’t represented there is a reason why. Without knowing these details you are relying on someone’s self report which might not be anywhere near who they really are.

Do you see this person only once a year at an convention or workshop? Do you know anyone who has daily, personal contact with them and can confirm they are still employed where they say?

Do they claim to be an expert in an area you suspect they aren’t?
In interactions with them do you find yourself thinking “how could they not know that?”
Could they be making assertions of being an expert to get closer to a particular person, field of work, weapons or property?

These questions are all particularly important if you are considering marrying or raising children with someone. Not just for online interactions.

If you can’t account for every milestone period in their life (birth, upbringing, extended education/military, career, residence, family, origin of finances) then you really can’t say you know them. This is more than fearing someone will uncover you were a dork in a high school, slept with the football team in college and got fired for oversleeping in your 20’s. People don’t abandon entire periods of their life for average, embarrassing indiscretions.

If a portion of their history is absent it’s because they don’t want you to know. Why?
Are they fleeing from something?
Lacking in certifications or education for a job?
Avoiding court ordered payments like child support?

It’s important to look at how people have treated those around them, dealt with various situations through their entire lives to get a picture of who they really are. Otherwise it is a censored version that makes them desirable.

Many pathological liars and con artists build a life of fantasy using their real names or variations of their real names. Part of the excitement may be that they could get identified by someone from their past at any time or they feel they are so powerful it can't happen.

If your boyfriend/girlfriend conveys that everyone before you was psycho, run like hell. There is either a serious flaw in how they perceive others, who they attract or both. Most people have had A bad breakup, ALL bad breakups is telling. Healthy people are capable of having long standing, healthy relationships in work, friends, family and love interests. Not all interactions will be this way, but the majority should.

Reasonable people understand that everyone has made mistakes; infidelity, financial problems, drug problems, and brushes with criminal misconduct. Responsible, safe individuals learn from these experiences. Manipulative people learn how to keep doing them undiscovered rather than accepting situations where they have to reveal them and accept responsibility.

The people in the heart of these stories had to build complex lies to cover untruthful statements, eventually being deceitful about even insignificant details to cover their story. The best place to hide is in plain view. By forming a whole network of people they can blend in with, these con artists are using you to hide behind. Prevent it.

If you have encountered someone you are concerned about I recommend;
Contact police
Check sex offender registries
Google their name
Look specifically for criminal cases or appeals by googling the following formats;
(with the quotes) “state v name” example “NY v Smith”
“state v. name”
“state vs name”
“state vs. name”
try both the state abbreviated and spelled out
try "name, APPELLANT" would look like " Smith, appellant" can often pick up appeals if not the actual case

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