The Nicole Lovell Case
13-year-old Virginia teen Nicole Lovell went missing on January 27, 2016, and was found stabbed to death three days later.
David Eisenhauer, an 18-year-old Virginia Tech student, has been charged with the kidnapping and murder of Lovell. A friend of Eisenhauer’s, Natalie Keepers, 19, has also been arrested and charged in connection with the murder both before and after the fact. The two will begin preliminary hearings in the case on March 28.
Investigators in the case quickly discovered, with help from a few neighborhood friends of Lovell’s, that she had been maintaining a relationship on social media with an older boy.
Lovell’s friend said that she had told her about exchanging messages with an 18-year-old guy named “David”. The friend mentioned that Lovell had been using an anonymous messaging app called Kik. The FBI was able to obtain account information on both David and Nicole from Kik, which eventually led investigators to David Eisenhauer and Natalie Keepers.
Kik, and other messaging apps like it, are among the most dangerous social sites on the web.
According to the company, Kik Interactive, nearly 40% of teens are currently using the chat app.
“Kik is not designed to create a community of bad behavior, but there does tend to be bad behavior on anonymous apps,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
The Problem with Kik and Similar Apps
The main issue with these apps is anonymity; people who engage in illegal behavior like the idea of being able to remain anonymous, which makes anonymous social apps attractive to predators. On the other side of that coin, anonymity makes these apps particularly dangerous for young users.
Anonymous messaging apps, like Kik, BurnNote, LINE, and Yik Yak, typically have very few security and privacy features. The apps, centered completely around messaging, do not have a public profile or timeline where parents can monitor activity like they can on Facebook, Twitter, and other similar platforms. Not to mention that, because the app does not use cell phone numbers or other identifying information, there is no way to confirm the person’s identity.
Some apps have even more worrying features, like Kik’s ‘Role Play’ for example. ‘Role Play’ is a feature of the app that allows users to change their contact information and search others users by age range.
The ‘Role Play’ feature is particularly troubling for parents who have kids using Kik. Essentially, it gives potential predators a way to filter their search results and hide their identity—making it the perfect tool for those who are looking to prey on young teens. Being able to filter potential victims by age makes the Kik platform even more attractive to predators.
What Can Parents Do to Protect Their Children Online
The first, and perhaps most important, step a parent can take to protect their child online is to have regular discussion about online and social media safety. This conversation can not only give you the opportunity to inform your child about the importance of online safety, but also can give you the opportunity to find out more about how your child is using the internet and social media personally.
Ask questions about how your child’s friends are using social media. They may speak more truthfully about their friends’ online activities than they would their own. Ask them: How are your friends using social media? Do they use it to meet new people or just to keep in touch with current friends? What cool new websites or social media platforms are you guys using?
Another tool parents can use are websites like Stay Safe Online, Get Safe Online, and Common Sense Media. These sites post articles about internet safety, rate social networks by safety, and provide information on social networks for children. Parents can find social networking alternatives to virtually every mainstream social network. The difference between these ‘safer alternatives’ and their mainstream counterparts is privacy and security features. For example, Yoursphere is a kids-only social network that is monitored by the company, and accounts in question are removed. Yoursphere can also be fully monitored by parents and is a growing alternative to the mainstream social networks.
For more in-depth information about specific apps, platforms, and safeguarding children online, check out this short list of helpful resources: