By Mike Sullivan, WBZ-TV
RAYNHAM — A Raynham teen is back with her family after she went missing for nine days. Her family believes she may have been lured away by someone online.
Colleen Weaver, 16, was found in New York City with the help of the FBI, New York Police, and Raynham Police. She left her home with no phone, clothes, or money. Her friends and family say they found her computer with several social media apps still open.
“We were afraid right away that she may have been lured away, and every day that went by, we were more and more convinced without any word from her,” tells Heather McNally, a family friend of the Weavers, “As of now, the parents have confirmed that she is safe.”
McNally could not say if the teenager was found in New York with someone. She said police are still investigating.
Weaver’s disappearance sparked a huge social media push to find her. It led to multiple vigilantes, including one right before it was found. McNally said this situation shows a true dichotomy of the internet: its power of positivity as well as its dark side.
“You can look at a situation and say, ‘Wow, the power of the internet! The power of social media! It gives people a voice they wouldn’t necessarily have had.’ At the same time, we wouldn’t have needed that had social media not existed,” explained McNally.
“It is difficult to keep up with the rapid pace for which these apps are coming about,” added Andrew Rossow, an internet attorney. “You have the real world and your online world merging into one. It’s hard to separate those from one another.”
Rossow suggests parents have a conversation with their children about what apps they are using, but also why. He says the “why” is key in understanding the purpose of the app, and whether or not there is a chance a child could be setting themselves up for a dangerous situation.
“You want to have that trusting relationship where the child does not feel they have to rebel, hide, and act out,” said Rossow. “Talking with your child, not to them, or at them, asking questions as a parent you may not understand about the platform.”
Rossow said the internet is becoming more and more decentralized as users and content creators want more privacy and control over what they post. This can lead to less oversight by these platforms, allowing predators or hackers to take advantage of a situation. It may also be easy for a teenager to bypass any age verification requests to use an app or program that they may not be mature enough to use. This can open the door for a predator who can learn a lot about your child just by what information they put in their profiles, or the locations they shoot videos from.
“There are patterns always available based on the content that is being pushed out there,” said Rossow. “I just need to know enough that convinces you as my potential victim that I share in that passion or that issue to where you drop your guard and say, ‘I can talk to someone about this.'”