Monday, January 17, 2022

Unique messaging to spot signs of online grooming

TikTok dance challenge with hidden message shows how easy it is to miss the signs of online grooming.

To mark International Missing Children’s Day, AMBER Alert Europe, non-governmental organisations in the field of child protection and law enforcement officers from around the globe involve influencers in the fight against online grooming with a cryptic TikTok dance challenge.

A seemingly ordinary TikTok dance challenge was launched by various well-known influencers around the globe. Now, it is revealed that this viral dance challenge was in fact staged to educate teenagers on the signs of online grooming.

The challenge kicks off a global prevention campaign, #CheckBeforeYouChat, by missing children’s foundation AMBER Alert Europe that brought together NGOs, law enforcement officers and influencers worldwide to fight the alarming increase in online grooming cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused social isolation, leading to an alarming increase in online grooming cases. Online grooming is when an adult befriends children online and builds their trust, often leading to sexual abuse, both online and in-person.

Earlier this month, the song “Love Birds”, secretly containing the five stages of online grooming in its lyrics, was officially released on TikTok (an app very popular among young people) along with a choreographed dance which interpreted the song into a 5-step dance challenge. With the help of well-known dancers on the TikTok circuit, the 5-step dance challenge was replicated by thousands of unsuspecting TikTokers worldwide.

Chief Constable of Cheshire Police Mark Roberts said: “We support this innovative approach to interacting with young people. We need to use every avenue available to highlight the signs to look out for, and often these can be extremely subtle, to help protect them from online grooming. Having the opportunity to participate in this international approach, with the support of dancers and influencers popular with young people, is a particularly relevant means of communicating this important message.”

Right before International Missing Children’s Day, which serves as a symbolic kick-off date, the second part of the campaign was set in motion. This time, dancers and campaign partners posted videos of themselves standing still and revealing the true meaning behind the TikTok challenge.

“Even though the signs were right in front of them, they still didn’t notice what was going on”, says Frank Hoen, Chairman and Founder of AMBER Alert Europe.

“This is exactly what happens with online grooming. Often the signs remain unnoticed until it’s too late. We want to make sure children are aware of the fact that online not everything is what it seems and they should be wary of who they communicate with on social media, apps or games. Always #CheckBeforeYouChat.”

Ricardo Wolff, Executive Creative Director at INNOCEAN BERLIN, says “When we were approached by AMBER Alert Europe to address this hideous army of online groomers (approximately 750.000 daily), it was clear that another PSA campaign wouldn’t do it. We needed to let people experience how easy it is to be fooled by groomers. And that’s how we came up with “Love Birds”. A TikTok hit that actually serves as a trojan horse to AMBER Alert Europe’s mission: educating kids and parents about online grooming and how to protect themselves.”

Detective Sergeant Zoe Bowden, Missing Persons and Child Exploitation Manager and Coordinator for Cheshire Police, said: “Protection of children is a priority for Cheshire Police. We are very aware that online groomers use different methods and platforms to take advantage and exploit some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Having the opportunity to get involved in this exciting campaign has given us the chance to raise the awareness in a new and exciting way that people will understand.

“We would urge everyone to know and see the signs of online grooming and exploitation and be a voice for those who may not be able to speak up for themselves. There is a specific Cheshire-wide campaign, of which we are a partner alongside other child protection agencies and the www.knowandsee.co.uk partnership website has a wealth of information as well as an indication of the signs to look out for.”

John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, added: “I am delighted that the Constabulary is supporting this unique and innovative initiative. So many young people spend a lot of time online which makes them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by these means. We need to make use of all the channels at our disposal to spread the word about child grooming, how it can happen and what signs to look out for.”

For more information about the campaign, please visit: https://www.checkbeforeyouchat.com/

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