As we all know, social media is a popular way for people to connect, but it also has come to serve as an escape from the reality of life’s hardships during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the threats accompanying these social media platforms are equally becoming popular. Bad actors are always attempting to gain access to an individual’s profiles whether we see it or not. This is in part due to the plethora of personal information one can gain from a profile if accessed successfully.
In 2020, Hg released, What the APP?! Top Social Media APPS and the Lowdown on What Info They Collect, a FactSheet providing a foundational understanding of what Apps collect in order to better protect yourself and loved ones. You can download a free copy here!
Today, Hg’s investigative analyst Matt Golabek shares tips on how to protect Minor Influencers who may be at risk due to publicly identifiable information found on the internet.
The Rise in Minor Influencers
During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the use of TikTok. The social media platform, owned by ByteDance and headquartered in Beijing, is no longer the place to simply share goofy pet videos and grandmas dancing. It is a multi-billion dollar global force, reporting an 70% increase in 2021 revenues of $58 billion as reported by Reuters. Global corporations have flocked to the platform to sell their wares, often relying on youthful (and naïve) go-getters to popularize a product to help its trending rankings. Today’s internet offers advisors who provide companies instruction on how to identify influencers and how much to pay them. Neal Schaffer, found of PDCA Social and an instructor at Rutgers Business School and the Irish Management Institute noted that 70% of TikTok users are under the age of 40:
Right now, brands are using TikTok to reach the younger generation. High school and college students are a major consumer segment, and the habits they form at this age often follow them for life. With the launch of TikTok business services, advertisers have several options to reach this demographic.
The option will often be a Young Adult or Minor Influencer.
The highest-paid TikTok earners of 2021, were all under 25—collectively hauling in $55.5 million, up from 200% from 2020. Influencers use their personal image to promote brands in hopes of having a major impact and “influence” on the lives of others. Successful individuals receive financial deals, e.g., free merchandise and monetary rewards, from companies, organizations, and brands.
Influencers need to ensure that they understand contracts, rules, and stipulations of engagement with a company as failure to do so could cause damages—financial and personal. Protecting one’s privacy, especially that of a minor, is also of importance.
Below I review a recent case that involved a Minor Influencer and offer guidance on how to protect the privacy of minors’ using TikTok to promote themselves and corporate brands.
Ava Majury’s Story: “Someone came to kill me…”
In February 2022, the Majury family shared a harrowing story with ABC News about how Robert Majury shot and killed an armed teenage stalker who had followed his fourteen-year-old daughter Ava on TikTok and arrived at their home with intent to harm. The obsessed follower had traveled from New Jersey to the Majury home in Florida and shot their front door down in search of Ava. Ava, a successful Minor Influencer, joined TikTok at 13 years of age and has over 1 million followers.
Parental Tips & Investigative Resources
- Protect Minors’ Personal Information
It was reported that Ava Majury’s father texted the aggressor that his daughter is a minor. While it is likely known that Ava was a minor through her social media presence, this is not information that should be publicly expressed. There are numerous rules and laws in place protecting minors. If it is necessary to reach out to the aggressor, regardless of text or phone call, it is recommended to not do so with a personal phone number or any number that can be traced back to the family. Instead utilize a tool such as Google Voice or a burner phone number app. This will ensure the privacy of all parties involved.
- Set All Social Media Profiles to “Private”
Setting all profiles to private is one of many layers of protection that could stop this from happening again. However, parents of Minor Influencers should be cautious that even if a profile is private, there could still be identifiers available to the public. Take Instagram for instance: a private Instagram profile still shows the information in the biography along with the profile picture.
If an influencer’s social media profiles need to remain public, we recommended having two sets of profiles. The public facing profilers should be strictly for “business” and contain no personal information at all, while the second set of profiles are strictly for family and friends and should maintain the greatest amount of privacy.
Finally, all family members and close associates to the Minor Influencer should follow these social media privacy guidelines as well. A Minor Influencer’s personal information could unknowingly be accessible on a friend’s profile.
- Remove Personally Identifiable Information from People Search Engines
If the threat of the aggressor is not actively imminent, there are some investigative tactics that can protect personally identifiable information. The first step is identifying and freely removing all personal information that is found in people search engine websites. People search engine websites often contain personal information such as but not limited to a list of current and historical addresses, age, relatives and associates, vehicles, and even full dates of birth. An interesting fact about these websites is that they do not contain information on minors under the age of 18 (hence, the aforementioned policies protecting minors). They can, however, contain information about their parents and other relatives.
Ultimately, information on these websites, if not removed, are freely available to anyone with internet access.
- Background Checks
The second step would be to conduct a background investigation on the aggressor. The main purpose of this investigation, aside from getting a general idea of who this person is (addresses, names, images), would be to identify if s/he has a criminal history.
- Contact Local Law Enforcement
If it is found that the aggressor has a criminal history, the third step would be to contact local law enforcement and explain the situation. This is now a heightened security issue and a matter of personal safety for everyone involved.
Ava Majury’s story ended without her being physically harmed. However, another non-minor social media star influencer, Mercedes Morr, ended in tragedy, when a stalker murdered her and then killed himself. The threats are real, and the stakes are high. The handful of tips and tricks mentioned above are only the start to protecting oneself. Understand that these risks are very real, educate yourself and family on where you are exposed, and legally and ethically do what is necessary to protect/make your life private.
Engage Hg for your background investigative needs!
With over twenty-five years of global experience checking credentials and vetting the backgrounds of foreign and domestic organizations and persons, Hetherington Group conducts background investigations unique to your needs. With hyper-focus and scientific precision, our seasoned professional analysts scour over 190 million foreign and domestic consumer records to empower you to remain risk averse and keep safe what’s most important to you.
Matthew Golabek is an investigative analyst at Hetherington Group, where he specializes in online risk assessments. Mr. Golabek has a keen eye for extracting content from social media accounts, tracking activities and monitoring subjects for clients from a wide range of industries, including pharmaceutical, technological, retail, and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Hg’s Data2Know and Timely Tips . On his lunch break, he can be found outside playing frisbee with his four-legged colleagues.