Social media and internet safety was the focus of a special event held Thursday evening at Neosho High School for parents of students within the district. Alissa Hendricks, Treatment Court administrator for both Newton and McDonald counties, served as host for the evening.

Social media and internet safety was the focus of a special event held Thursday evening at Neosho High School for parents of students within the district. Alissa Hendricks, Treatment Court administrator for both Newton and McDonald counties, served as host for the evening.
Guest speaker Detective Matt Smith knows the pitfalls of cyber space all too well. Smith is a deputy with the Jasper County Sheriff's Department but his main law enforcement focus is cyber crimes, with the emphasis on children.
Smith is a member of the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and the Federal Cyber Crimes Task Force, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Smith has spent 16 years in law enforcement but for the last year and a half, he's been focused on cyber crime.
"I deal with child exploitation," Smith said. "Online predators look for your kids. They want to see them naked and meet up with them in person. I'm here to find them and stop them. In a nutshell, that's what I do."
Hendricks welcomed the crowd of parents and school personnel who gathered for the event. "
This is a really important topic for our kids so I'm glad to see so many people here for the kids," Hendricks said. "I want to thank Neosho High School, Darren Cook, and Karin Miller." She also called Smith 'very passionate about cyber crime."
"I went from (being) a street cop who wore a uniform every day into cyber investigations," Smith said. "The technology our kids use, we're running to catch up with. You probably have no clue about the technology that they use. Every day, there is something new and different.  A lot of times, they (kids) are doing something that is too mature for them."
On his first day investigating cyber crimes, Smith said he had his first case handed to him within the first three  hours and he soon learned there were 68 cases already underway.
Kids use the same devices as adults including cell phones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers. They also use applications or apps. Most apps, according to Smith, use internet access.
Smith's first case involved a 9-year old girl from Carl Junction. She started her own YouTube Channel and posted her first video within 45-minutes. Her first video featured her dancing naked in her bedroom and she posted it to YouTube. Although the video was pulled by You Tube after 35 minutes, over a hundred people viewed it and 45 of those shared it. "A 9-year old should not know how to do this," Smith said. "But these things are taught at elementary level. She found out the dangers the hard way."
"If you have a kid, 11 or 12 years old, they probably have Facebook and Twitter accounts," Smith stated. "Some like Instagram. Here's the kicker, though, 12 is not old enough to have a Facebook profile so the kids lie."
Once a child has one social media account, others often follow. Suggestions for friends or followers on social networking sites can often be dangerous. The suggestions may not be the people you want your kids to associate with," Smith told the crowd. "But they are people who have researched the same topics."
Those topics might include a wide range, everything from guns to nudity, according to Smith.
"They're talking to creepers, people I'm looking for," he said. "Once they reel them in, they start talking nice."
Often, the next step is to ask the child to take nude or sexual photographs to share and once they do, that photo can be shared and sold many times. "That's what nasty, creepy people to do kids," Smith said. "I can show you a picture that's all over the world but I can't make it stop. It's out there."
Smith recounted his experiences with cyber criminals who take explicit photos for financial gain. "Many do it to make money," he said. "They ask a hundred kids to send a photo and if they get photos of two girls, they can make a thousand dollars a day," Smith said. "Pictures from two boys can get them two thousand a day."
"If they (kids) think that they won't get caught, they send more and more inappropriate pictures and that's how they get jammed up."
Often, cyber criminals will blackmail kids to send more photos, threatening to reveal the photos to parents or other family members or post them where the photos can be viewed by someone the youth knows. In many cases, the parents have no idea what is happening or what their kids are doing online.
"We may not have a clue what they're doing online," Smith said. "They have a Facebook profile for family and one for fun. If you don't talk with them, they are probably doing things they shouldn't be or if you demand to see your kids' online activity, they will hide it more. Our kids are way more technically savvy than we are. If there's a way to hide something they will find it or someone will show them how."
Smith explained that what parents do online will affect what their kids do. "If we're using a cell phone and all we do is text, not call, they will follow suit."
"The job I work in now, I'm undercover. I don't have a personal Facebook account and I'm a cyber crime guy. I do have six accounts ranging from a 17-year old girl to a 6-year old boy but none of them are me. If they're talking to a creeper, they may not know they're a creeper. They may be lying."
Smith listed five forms of social media misuse - sexting, bullying, the transfer of inappropriate materials, extortion for sex, cyber stalking, and identity theft.
"People ask me, 'how do I keep my kids safe,'" Smith said. "Take their phone away."
He also listed several services that can assist parents to keep track of what their children are doing online. Secureteen.com, Puresight.com, MyMobileWatchdog.com, NetNanny.com, and Watchover.com are those he listed. Parents can check out the websites and applications provided by these and other monitoring providers. Some fees for the services may apply.
One of the Neosho School Resource officers, Phillip Whiteman, suggested parents could also use Google Alerts. "It's old but it's free," he said. Google Alerts are customized to alert the person who set it up when a name, such as their child's, or a phrase appears online
"If you don't do anything else," Smith told parents. "Check the Facebook setting. Kids post a ton of things on Facebook that they shouldn't."
Privacy settings can be adjusted so that the number of people who may see a post can be limited. It's important to remember that a post shared to a friend will also show up on their timeline or Facebook page. Everyone who is a friend of that friend can also see the post and has the potential to share it.
He also noted that some parents fail to demonstrate good examples in social network behavior.  Smith cited some examples of provocative posts by a parent who"Fruit doesn't fall very far from the tree," he remarked.
In addition to the better known social network sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, Smith alerted parents to some they may not be aware exist. "Have you heard of KIK?" he asked. "Your kids have. I hate KIK. I have a KIK account that I use (in fighting cyber crimes)."
He said because it's based in Canada, it's difficult for American law enforcement to pursue cases.
Smith considers Apple I-phones to be the most secure but he suggests wariness with Android models, with special caution to be used when it comes to applications. "Apps that are free," he stated. "There is a reason why they are free. They paid it put it out. It's not tried or true."
The reason behind free apps might be as simple as creating an ad base or they may be someone trying to gain a person's private information.
He also noted that if a child has a cell phone, they can gain internet access anywhere that offers free Wi-fi and that most apps require online access to be used. The same applies to tablets and laptop computers.
Smith began the program with a disclaimer that all opinions expressed during the event were his own and not necessarily those of the Jasper County Sheriff's Department or any of the cyber task forces he is associated with. "I've said things that offended people, because I'm honest," he said.
His main message to parents, expressed multiple times, is to be aware of what your children are doing online. Know what sites they visit, know their passwords in order to be able to access their accounts to be aware how they are using them, and keep open communication with your kids. Understand today's young people don't need a computer or tablet to access online. Most cell phones can.
"Cell phones are not used for calls as much as they once were," Smith said. Instead, they are used for texting, applications, messaging, social media and communicating.
Parents or school staff who suspect a child may be victim of a cyber crime, whether it's bullying or sexting or sharing inappropriate materials should contact law enforcement immediately.
Social networking sites and the internet have many valid, legal uses but they also offer a place where what Smith calls creepers can stalk unsuspecting kids and target them for child exploitation.
"It's here," Smith said about the online predators who prey on kids. "We're talking right here in Neosho, in Southwest Missouri, and in the area.
Smith also presented a similar program geared toward youth for students in grades six through nine in the Neosho School district.