SALT LAKE COUNTY — Experts call the case of a 19-year-old man accused of sextortion via Snapchat a wakeup call to all Utah parents.
Gabe Gilbert, 19, of South Jordan, faces felony charges in a case that investigators say may have more than 50 victims.
Rewiring the brain
Collin Kartchner, a social media expert with the Save the Kids Foundation, says young brains are being re-wired – and not in a good way.
“Parents need to understand that when you give your kids a smartphone with access to the Internet, you are giving them a Playboy Magazine and saying, ‘Don’t look at this,'” Kartchner said. “It doesn’t matter how much they go to church or whatever. It is wiring their brains to have a false notion of how relationships work.”
Is Snapchat to blame?
Charging documents say Gilbert is accused of threatening teen girls unless they sent him explicit photos on the social media app Snapchat. Kartchner says the entire situation makes him sad for everyone involved: the victims as well as Gilbert.
“This is happening right now. It’s happening in our community. And it’s always happening through the same app. It’s happening through Snapchat,” Kartchner said.
Snapchat, he asserts, was created for sexting, and there’s no good reason for teens to be on the platform.
Snapchat launched in 2011 as a messaging platform. While users can share photos and videos publicly through a feature called “Stories,” privately messaged videos disappear by default after a single viewing. Photos sent as private message snaps can be seen for a user-specified length of time before disappearing.
Advice for parents
Kartchner says the story illustrates how important it is for parents to monitor their children online — if they even allow their children to have access in the first place. If teens make a mistake, he adds, it’s critical to make sure parents lead with love rather than shame.
“If we are going to give our kids access to this stuff, it’s like giving them a snake. And they get bit, and [if] we get upset with them for getting bit by the snake that we handed them, there’s something wrong with us,” he said.
Leading with love, he advises, begins with emboldening parents to have frank and open conversations and restricting their children’s access to what’s online.