The online danger of social media 'orbiters' and what parents need to know
'These orbiters can definitely turn into stalkers,' detective says
There's a scary trend of online interactions between teenagers and social media followers that has the attention of law enforcement.
Some online followers are allegedly offering $50, $75 and $100 in exchange for a selfie, a picture of an outfit or nude photos. These followers -- mostly men -- are often referred to as "orbiters" and they may be circling your child, but teens might not even realize the huge danger behind it.
Jenny Gutierrez and Bianca Morales, both 19, are new to the YouTube scene. They're trying to jump on the latest craze for easy money by becoming rich like social media influencers.
"Hopefully if it works out, you know, make a living out of it. It'd be really nice to be able to afford the things we want and stuff in that way," Gutierrez said.
To reach influencer status, they have to increase their videos' views by the millions. That means allowing friends and even total strangers to follow them online, tracking their every move.
"I would say that I know about maybe one-third of the people that follow me," Gutierrez said.
Not all social media followers are innocently watching. There's an alarming trend of men called "orbiters" who follow young women online, requesting pictures, offering them money and even requesting to meet in real life.
"It might seem harmless -- it's a picture of a skirt and a top or shorts and a shirt. It grows into something," Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers Houston, said, adding that no matter the request for photos, there's a hidden risk. "They can turn violent. They can turn mob-like. There can be an infatuation with the young girl that turns into hatred towards this girl."
That's what happened to New York teen Bianca Devins, who was killed by a man she allegedly met online. Investigators said he was infatuated with her. They met up in person and he slit her throat.
Detective Melissa Holbrook, with the Houston Police Department, said there is always potential danger when interacting with strangers online.
"These orbiters can definitely turn into stalkers," Holbrook said.
Gutierrez and Morales said they have been contacted by men who have offered them money in exchange for pictures.
"It's like grown men that try to get to you by telling you they'll pay for your bills, they'll pay for your needs in exchange for you to talk to them or send them pictures," Gutierrez said.
She admitted she's taken money from someone online.
"I told him send me the money first and then I'll send you the pictures and he actually sent me the money, but he never received the pictures," she said.
"I have some friends who actually do that and they'll get money," Morales added.
Morales showed KPRC some of the messages she's received online.
"It's weird. Some people just say the weirdest things," she said. "I just delete them or block them sometimes."
There's no crime in that alone. However, orbiters have the attention of Holbrook, who said when orbiters want more than just pictures, it could lead to bigger problems.
"They may move to an in-person contact, where they are actually following them with an intention of harm, because they may have been rejected by this person, or they are not continuing the relationship in the way they perceived in their mind to be from the online presence," Holbrook said.
Here's what parents need to know:
Orbiters are not the only trend that could turn into a stalking situation. Other terms your teen may be familiar with are:
Incels, or involuntary celibates, are people online who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner. These people -- mostly men -- often encourage each other through online discussion platforms on how to meet women, trick women or force women into sexual relationships.
Sugar daddies are well known in the college and young adult crowds, where being a "sugar baby" is becoming a way to make easy money. Popular websites like Seeking Arrangement partner young women with older men who promise an allowance for whatever contract the young woman requests. This so-called contract can be a request to pay for rent, bills, clothes or a number of other things in exchange for companionship, mentorship, romantic or sexual relations.
Crime Stoppers experts said parents need to share real stories of online dangers and predators, like that of Bianca Devins, with their teens. If that's too scary, they should not be on social media.
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