DA warns of social media dangers

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

Butler County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer didn’t mince words when sharing her feelings about social media.

“It’s the devil,” Tesmer told the Rotary Club of Greenville Thursday during its meeting at Beeland Park.

Tesmer said her office, which covers Butler, Lowndes and Crenshaw Counties, has a large number of cases that tie back to social media sites, such as Facebook.

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She cited a missing person investigation involving a Crenshaw County teenager.

Alissia Freeman went missing from her home in Highland Home on the afternoon of Dec. 13. According to her mother, Vickie Metcalf, Freeman went outside to take out the trash around 4:30 p.m. and was never seen again.

“I was in there cooking when she came through the kitchen and she never did come back inside,” Metcalf said. “We went out looking for her. We were calling her name and she never answered. We looked down the roads and in the woods. We’ve just been looking for her. We don’t know where she went. We don’t know what happened.”

Tesmer said authorities now believe Freeman’s disappearance may be linked to her use of social media.

“Through social media she had asked several grown men to come get her,” Tesmer said. “We suspect that’s what happened because she wiped her computer clean and walked out of the house. … She had this whole other life on social media meeting men.”

Freeman is still missing.

“She was 17 when she went missing, and the family thought she’d call home when she turned 18 in February,” Tesmer said. “She didn’t.”

Tesmer said social media can be used in human trafficking.

“People don’t want to believe that goes on here, but it does,” she said. “Mobile, Atlanta, Huntsville and Birmingham is kind of the loop that it takes. Social media can be very dangerous. If you have kids that are on social media, you better be keeping an eye on them.”

According to the FBI, Internet crime is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., and children are the fastest growing victim pool.

In the U.S., more than 45 million children ages 10 through 17 use the Internet. Among them one in five has been sexually solicited; one in four has encountered unwanted pornography; and close to 60 percent of teens have received an e-mail or instant message from a stranger and half have communicated back.

According to the FBI, an estimated 20 percent of parents do not supervise their children’s Internet use at all; 52 percent of parents moderately supervise their children’s Internet use; and 71 percent of parents stop supervising Internet use by their children after the age of 14, yet 72 percent of all Internet-related missing children cases involve children who are 15 years of age or older.

With statistics like that, it’s easy to see why Tesmer would consider social media to be the devil.

“It’s scary,” she said. “It really is.”