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An Open Letter to Students: Nashville ICAC Detective sheds Light on the Dangers of Online Predators

Hey FILTER Students,

My name is Chad Gish and I am a detective with the Metro Nashville Police Department. I have been a police officer for 23 years and a detective for 20 of those years. I have been with my current unit since 2005, which is digital forensics and surveillance focusing on ICAC cases, or Internet Crimes Against Children. ICAC is a federal program, with a task force in all 50 states to help combat online predators and come up with solutions to keep children safer online.

Social media has become a way for online predators to easily access young people today. When I say “online predators,” I am talking about adults actively seeking out children, most often to obtain inappropriate, and often sexual, images or videos of them. Social media plays a big role in the increase in cases of child exploitation we are seeing today. Certain apps have features that parents and kids need to know about that put them most at risk. For example, Snapchat has a location feature called the “Snapmap.” This has the potential to be extremely dangerous. Say Jane, enables her location services on Snapchat and so does Bill because they both think it is so cool to be able to see where all their friends are all the time. However, Bill is a child predator posing as a teenage boy that Jane has unknowingly allowed to follow her account, and now Bill knows where Jane is at all times. See the problem?

These predators do their research. They create profiles using teenagers’ pictures and information. They know what schools the kids they prey on attend, so they can claim to go to school somewhere in the same district. They will look at the friends list of the person they are pursuing and try to identify a number of friends to add in addition to their target to make it look realistic and believable. If your accounts are public, these predators can see what time you get home, what you like to do, where you like to go, and what your hobbies are. They have everything they need to make a seemingly genuine connection with you, and develop a bond of trust, which is where the real danger begins.

Another thing to be mindful of is that once you post something on the internet, it never comes off. I worked a case some time ago where an 8th grade girl’s pictures were downloaded from her Facebook account, photoshopped onto the body of a nude woman, and posted to the internet. This girl had never posted anything remotely like this before, only normal pictures with friends, doing activities etc. But because her account was public, this predator was given full access to her photos and her life. Still today those explicit pictures, that are not even really her, are still online and there is nothing she can do about it. Who you allow access to your profile has to be constantly monitored. Even friends that you may have been close to before, but maybe had a falling out with, could use what you post or comment to try and hurt or bully you.

If you are going to be on social media, there are a couple of things that are very important. Always, always make sure accounts are set to private, and make sure location services are not enabled. Even with those criteria in place, monitoring who you allow access to your account is an ongoing process. You need to review it often to make sure that list is only people you want viewing your accounts.

I can tell you one thing, if you all saw what I see on a daily basis when it comes to social media, and some of the outcomes of these cases involving social media, you would change a lot about the way you use it. The dangers are real, and we all need to be more educated and aware of the reality of what happens out there. Good luck on this journey, and know we are all in your corner cheering you on!


Detective Chad Gish

Metro Nashville Police Department

Digital Forensics

ICAC - Internet Crimes Against Children

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