Determined to take down online child predators, the online platform Bark’s Special Projects Team undertook a 10-month quest. That mission shows how 37-year-old Roo Powell, Bark’s Head of Creative and a mom posing as an 11-year-old, went undercover as “Bailey.” Within seven seconds of Bailey’s profile going live, predators made contact.
The Stalking of Innocence
In 2019, Bark’s creative team posted an article on Medium about this project, which will be released this year via the documentary Project Stonefish. The article went viral. Currently, a nine-minute preview (below) serves as a follow-up to that post.
Titania Jordan, Bark’s Chief Parenting Officer, is hopeful both the article and documentary will raise awareness about just how pervasive online predators are.
“This is absolutely something that can happen to your child, in a matter of moments, even if their accounts are private,” she tells Parentology. “You’d have no idea unless they told you or you found out by using a monitoring service.”
The internet has opened a vast door to child predators, something Jordan believes society is ill-equipped to deal with. “Nobody wants to talk about sex and child molesters, but if we don’t, it’s something that will continue to live behind the veil in secret,” she explains.
What Powell Learned as an 11-Year-Old
Powell doesn’t believe you have to be a parent to be affected by the work she does. As a mother, though, “Sometimes I’m playing the part of a persona who is the same age as one of my children,” she tells Parentology, which makes her compartmentalize her emotions. “I’m often putting on the same clothes [when playing an undercover character] I might buy for my daughter, and that can really throw me for a loop.”
Her work definitely strengthens her resolve to keep an open dialogue with her children. “If I was a teenager and I had been manipulated and abused by an adult online, I would have been too afraid to tell anyone,” Powell says. “My fear now is that what I’ve described is exactly what’s happening to kids all over.” This is part of the reason she strives to be the type of mom that her kids know they can always come to, no matter what.
Powell says parents and guardians are the best lines of defense when it comes to online child sex abuse. “My biggest hope is that we’re spreading awareness and parents feel empowered to not only take action, but to have open conversations with their children about the dangers we see online.” Something Bark works tirelessly to do.
The News Is Not All Bad
Jordan hopes parents who watch Bark’s videos will not just feel shocked, but will have better insight into what their children face online and come away empowered to make decisions around online safety.
This summer, Bark will release the full-length documentary, with its strong focus on parenting in the tech world.
“The film covers the dynamics of raising a child in a world where both parents and children are uber connected,” Jordan says. The film promises to offer insights into mental health concerns and what platforms are doing about bullying and abuse. She says it will offer actionable steps to help parents navigate an increasingly online world.
Until then, Jordan says interested parents can check out Bark’s website for free tools and resources, or join the online Facebook parenting group Parenting in a Tech World, which offers parents ways to connect with one another to discuss the problems facing today’s kids.
As Powell wrote in Medium, “Knowing the pervasiveness of predation on the internet isn’t a burden. Not really. It’s a gift. One that helps us turn the tables on abusers. Our work has resulted in arrests of people who have shown the propensity and willingness to harm children. Technology has changed and so too have the methods by which predators find, communicate with, and harm children. If they can use technology to abuse children, we can use the same technology to help stop their crimes.”