With the second chapter of Fortnite recently released comes the inevitable questions of security risks. Fortnite’s popularity is not news to anyone but its rise upward has parents wondering how to stop online predators in this and other online gaming communities.
“Any online platform where people are gathering becomes a hunting ground for online predators,” says Chris Hadnagy, founder of the Innocent Lives Foundation, which works with law enforcement to track and capture predators who traffick and exploit children. “In Fortnite, you can be in a small group, you can chat with people, and there is no verification of who exactly you’re playing with or what age they actually are.”
Hadnagy paints the very easy scenario in which predatory encounters are regularly happening, unbeknownst to parents and children: A man can log into Fortnite, upload a girl avatar, say he’s a twelve-year-old girl, and simply enter a private chat with another child who thinks he’s that little girl. The two start playing the game together, but are soon discussing family problems and developing a trusting relationship — even though it’s built on a lie.
“The gaming networks don’t have strong verification,” he says, explaining that these companies don’t log these chat sessions, either. “They become a prime hunting ground for predators when it comes to kids.”
What Parents Can Do
“Parents need to have open conversations with their kids,” Hadnagy says. These include age-appropriate conversations about the dangers of online predators. “Maybe even show them a news story or two so that they know you’re not just being overly cautious, and just letting kids know that there are people out there that will prey on them on these networks.”
It’s been shown that involved parents tend to have fewer problems than parents who are less involved. And while there are programs and apps that parents can use to monitor their child’s phone and browser activity, there is nothing like that for online gaming communities.
So how can parents exercise a little bit of control over ensuring their child’s safety in these games?
“Is the gaming system in a public space? Is it in your living room or family room or is it hidden away in their bedroom where they are alone and private?” Hadnagy asks. “These things can make a huge difference if a predator is preying on your child.”
In addition to being proactive, Hadnagy suggests parents watch for changes in their child.
- Does your child suddenly have gifts coming to them?
- Does their attitude change?
- Do they no longer want to go outside or interact with their real-life friends?
- Do they only want to interact with people online?
- Do they talk about a special relationship that they have that no one else understands?
These types of things should motivate parents to look at their child’s chat programs and any online games for any red flags.
Hadnagy suggests parents take notice of certain key elements. “Are they chatting online? What do those chats look like? Are they sexual in nature? Are they predatory? When you come into the room does the child quickly click the screen off? Are there any indicators that you should be worried?”
Ultimately the best way to ensure your child is safe from child predators online gaming is to be proactive and pay attention. “Again, an involved parent tends to have fewer problems than a non-involved parent does,” Hadnagy emphasizes. “Being involved in what the child is doing can really help.”