FBI warns of disturbing self-harm trend targeting young kids

Groups are blackmailing kids and teens into committing harmful and dangerous acts, all while livestreaming.
The agency said online groups are essentially blackmailing kids and teens, threatening to expose sexually explicit content they often don’t actually have.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 7:16 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The FBI is warning of a disturbing online trend targeting kids as young as eight years old.

In a notice posted earlier this month, the agency said online groups are essentially blackmailing kids and teens, threatening to expose sexually explicit content they often don’t actually have if the victims don’t commit and record acts of self-harm or animal cruelty.

The groups target minors between 8-17, especially LGBTQ+ youth, racial minorities, and those who struggle with a variety of mental health issues, such as depression and suicidal ideation.

Oftentimes, victims will be asked to cut or stab themselves, hurt animals on camera and disturbingly, the FBI believes the groups have an end goal of forcing the minors they extort into committing suicide on a live stream.

Most of the targeting takes place on personal devices, so cyber security experts are pleading with parents to monitor their children’s online activity. On most devices and social media sites, there are simple security and privacy settings that can make a world of difference.

School districts, by law, are required to implement certain security measures on their own devices and networks, offering some relief to parents.

“It is very serious, it’s a very serious thing. Every parent should take it very seriously,” said Femi Aina, director of information technology for the Atlanta Public School District (APS).

He said APS blocks many websites that could be vessels for dangerous online activity and targeting, like adult content, gambling, social media and even shopping websites.

“I can guarantee you that every school district out there is doing it in some form or fashion,” said Aina. “We all use different tools and different methods but we’re all doing much of the same things because by law we are required to protect and restrict certain types of content.”

The FBI recommends the public consider the following warning signs regarding self-harm or suicide:

  • Sudden behavior changes such as becoming withdrawn, moody, or irritable
  • Sudden changes in appearance, especially neglect of appearance
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Dropping out of activities and becoming more isolated and withdrawn
  • Scars, often in patterns
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks, burns, or other wounds
  • Carvings, such as words or symbols, on the skin
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather
  • Threatening to commit suicide and openly talking about death, not being wanted or needed or not being around

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides a free service known as Take It Down, which helps minor victims, even if they are now an adult, but were victimized as a minor, with online image or video files, remove or stop the online sharing of nude, or sexually explicit content taken while under 18