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Facebook predator targeted my 6-year-old girl, says dad

Aug. 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM ET

Michael Marcinanis wants other parents to know that there are predators on the Internet who want to do their children harm, and that it’s important to pay close attention to what children do online. That’s why he’s sharing his story about how a man claiming to be in his 30s sent sexually explicit messages to Marcinanis’ six-year-old daughter on Facebook. Marcinanis brings his story to light even though he readily admits to having set up his daughter’s account, which lists her as 16. All he wanted was for her to be able to chat with her grandmother, and play games with family members.

“There’s a lot of really sick people out there,” the 47-year-old father told TODAY.com. “Call me what you want, but if one parent starts paying attention to what their kids are doing online, this story has a happy ending.”

Earlier this week, Marcinanis contacted police in Milton, Ga., near where he lives, after discovering obscene messages on his daughter's Facebook page from a man who had contacted her through one of the games she plays. Marcinanis says his son, 22-year-old T.J., was able to track down the man’s address and even his place of employment, and a police investigation is under way.

So why does a 6 year old girl have a Facebook profile, a profile that lists her as 16? And after the bad thing happened, why is the doting dad who helped make that profile sharing his tale with the world?

Grandma and games are two main reasons Marcinanis broke Facebook policy and made the account for the little girl. “My mother, her grandmother, lives in New York,” Marcinanis said. “My little girl talks to her grandmother on Facebook. You could say there’s the phone, but the phone is expensive.”

What’s more, Facebook is the place his little girl can play games with her family — colorful, cartoony kid-friendly games like “Candy Crush Saga,” “Bubble Safari” and of course, “FarmVille.” “And no offense, but 'FarmVille' is a game for 6-year-olds,” Marcinanis observes.

Since “FarmVille” and other Facebook games require other players, Marcinanis made sure his daughter played with friends and family who can all watch what she’s doing online. What’s more, Marcinanis keeps the password to his daughter’s Facebook account, so she can’t log on without him. In other words, he thought he was being the responsible dad ... right up until the creep turned up.

Still furious over the incident, Marcinanis says he almost wishes he’d set up a “To Catch A Predator”-style sting, rather than confronting the man over email before going to the police. While his daughter’s profile photo clearly shows a little girl, Marcinanis said the man claimed he thought he was emailing a 16-year-old — the age Marcinanis gave his daughter on her Facebook profile.

“Here’s the problem with that,” Marcinanis said. “What the hell is your problem, a 30-year-old man talking to a 16-year-old girl?”

The incident isn’t going to dissuade Marcinanis from allowing his daughter to stay on Facebook, but he intends to take further precautions, and be ever more vigilant.

“You can say a 6-year-old shouldn’t be on Facebook, but if you kick off all the underage kids, you’re going to lose 40 percent of the people on there,” he told TODAY.com.

Forty percent is a bit of an overstatement, but point taken. An estimated 5.6 million kids aged 12 and under still manage to have Facebook accounts, according to a Consumer Reports study published in May. And most parents who knew their kids were on Facebook did not discuss online safety or keep up with the Facebook activities of their children, the study noted.

“I watch what my little girl does online,” Marcinanis says. “Most parents don’t.” To those who are critical of his daughter’s Facebook account, "I say this is exactly a great example of parents paying attention to what their kids are doing online.”

— Via WSB Atlanta

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