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Remote learning has decreased cyberbullying but offers more opportunities for online predators to target children

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Posted at 6:26 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 20:26:32-04

CLEVELAND — Remote learning across Ohio and the nation has increased the opportunity for online predators to attempt to make contact with children.

Bark, a company that helps schools and parents monitor their children’s devices and online accounts, tells News 5 it’s seen a 23% increase in alerts to parents about possible online predators since March 13.

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"Parents have the hardest job on the planet and it's only made even harder by what's happening right now," said Bark.Us Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan.

In May, News 5 reported that the FBI was “warning that sexual predators are targeting children and trying to exploit kids online.”

“Even when your children are within the walls of your home, when you are home, these very smart people know how to target your children,” said Bark US Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan.

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Students in Lorain work on school computers that are monitored by Bark's software, alerting administrators so they can stop high-risk behavior.

Jordan says the tricks are the same. Predators reach out to children posing as a peer and try to gain their trust. Before the coronavirus, that could lead to an attempted “meet up.” During the pandemic, Jordan says it’s much more likely to lead to an attempt at “sextortion” through compromising videos or pictures under the likely-empty threat of harm to the child or a family member.

“Children are online more frequently and earlier than they would have been in previous years,” said Jordan. “You’ve got to have those difficult conversations with them at a younger age.”

Teacher Elisa Kurbat said she has those conversations with her 14, 12, and 10-year-old boys often.

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Elisa Kurbat talks to News 5 about how she keeps her three sons safe online, while also preparing to teach online this upcoming school year.

Her family’s district will be using remote learning until at least the middle of October. Kurbat says she feels lucky that she’ll be home with her kids so she can try to keep her kids safe online.

“Being really vigilant as a parent, I look at it as my responsibility more than anybody’s,” said Kurbat.

See News 5's previous coverage of Bark in Ohio here.

Some concerns typically associated with online access have become less prevalent.

Bark data shows:

  • A 16% increase in hate speech and a 63% increase in the most severe hate speech
  • Cyberbullying has substantially declined while in quarantine
  • Depression has also substantially declined while in quarantine
  • Alerts for discussion about/consumption of illegal drugs has increased substantially
  • There is a 10% lift in alerts about fake profiles during quarantine
  • Usage of profanity is down by 8% during quarantine
  • Imminent suicide risk alerts are DOWN by 61% during quarantine, but severe-but-not-imminent suicide alerts are up by 46%
  • Sexual content is generally down by quite a bit, BUT sexting/sending nudes is up by 11%
  • Severe Violence is down by 68%

If you’re trying to figure out how to safely prepare for the upcoming school year online, experts say:

  • Have conversations with your students earlier about how people may not be who they say they are online.
  • Take breaks. Even a short break from a computer screen every few hours can keep everyone more happy, healthy, and safe.
  • Online communities like the “Parenting in a tech world” Facebook page can provide new ideas to handle similar issues that parents all over the United States are encountering right now

This story is part of The Rebound: Northeast Ohio, News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:

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Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.

Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.

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