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How social media puts intellectually disabled people at risk

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen

Washington: People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to fall prey to the social media predators, according to a recent study.

A first-of-its-kind study co-authored by a Michigan State University scholar finds that adults with Williams syndrome, who are extremely social and trusting, use Facebook and other social networking sites frequently and are especially vulnerable to online victimization.

Roughly a third of study participants said they would send their photo to an unknown person, arrange to go to the home of a person they met online and keep online relationships from their parents.

“You have this very social group of people who are vulnerable in real life and now they are seeking a social outlet through the Internet, communicating with people they know and don’t know,” said co-author Marisa Fisher. “They don’t have the training or the knowledge to know how to determine what is risky behavior.”

Nearly 86 percent of adults with Williams syndrome use social networking sites such as Facebook nearly every day, typically without supervision, the study found. Participants also share a large amount of identifiable information on their social network profiles and are likely to agree to engage in socially risky behaviors.

While the Internet provides an opportunity to enhance the everyday lives of adults with Williams syndrome, it also poses threats that are arguably more dangerous than those they face in the real world, the study concludes.

“It’s time to start teaching individuals with Williams syndrome about safety, both in the real world and online,” Fisher said. “This includes what personal information they should share, how to set privacy settings and how to decide whether an ‘online friend’ should become an ‘offline friend.'”

The study appears in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. (ANI)

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