Or: How a 21 year old Internet prankster achieved in a 6 minute You Tube video what the police, social services and schools haven't been able to do in decades.
Yesterday I saw this video.
In it a young man named Coby Persin, who up until that point I had never heard of, sets himself up as an Internet predator. He created a false Facebook account and pretended to be a 15 year old boy named Jason. He used false photos and contacted young girls and after a few days of text based conversations (and in one case a phone call) he arranged to meet them privately. The first girl in a park. The second at her house. The third in his car. Twist was however...that the girls' parents were with him when he met them. Each and every parent was furious and upset with their daughters. Initially scoffing at the idea that their kids would fall for Coby's false persona, their fear and fury at what could have happened is evident when the bemused little girls,(the youngest 12, the oldest 14) are on the receiving end of verbal lashings from mum and dad, who are in complete and utter disbelief at what they'd just witnessed, I.e. Their kids trusting 100% in a "boy" they'd never met to the point where they would go and meet him behind the backs of their protectors. To make matters worse, the video makes it crystal clear that each of the girls knew it was wrong. The first waits until her dad leaves the house. The second until she believes her father is sleeping and the third until her parents are supposedly out on a "date night".
I was born in 1970. Back then we had badass TV commercials about not going off with strangers. About not throwing fireworks. About not playing with matches. And about looking both ways before crossing the road. These ads were unsettling, unpleasant and tapped into a very primal childhood fear of death. Their fundamental message was "Do this horrible thing and you will die. Or if you don't die you'll never see your Mummy and Daddy again." The commercials pulled no punches and were the TV equivalent of my headmistress at Primary school. Pragmatic, focussed, direct and straight talking (and she was a nun).
Charlie the cat would meow his way through infomercials about not going off with men you didn't know (personally I never saw the attraction of puppies so that one wouldn't have worked anyway but I got the point).
Tufty and later the Green Cross Code Man (played by Darth Vader no less) would instruct us on how to cross the road. Simultaneously, other ads would show the unspeakable misery of losing a loved one to a car accident. Not to mention little kids running out from behind ice cream vans without looking where they were going.
The scariest one I ever saw kept me awake for 3 nights to the point where my exasperated mother shouted "THAT'S IT! YOU'RE NOT WATCHING ANY MORE TELLY AGAIN EVER!!!" every time I ran down the stairs after bed time in tears in my Noddy pyjamas, screaming with fear. It was called 'The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water' and in it a hooded and robed figure watches impassively as children stupidly playing near water too dangerous to swim in, fell in and drowned. The voice was done by legendary horror actor Donald Pleasance and as I lay belly down on the floor, my face two feet from the TV, I turned to my father and with wide eyes asked "Daddy, who's that man?" Ever the realist my father looked up from his newspaper and cheerfully replied, "Oh, that's the children drowner".
Thing is...I NEVER went near anything other than a swimming pool without adult supervision again until I was about 12 or 13.
TV for children was a riot in the 1970s. My favouritest telly show was the anarchic and wonderful Tiswas, every Saturday morning from we would be entertained by a very young Chris Tarrant, Sally James and Lenny Henry (not forgetting Spit the Dog). The Phantom Flan Flinger would pie his way through the studio guests (sometimes with his wife Flandarella) and the whole thing was laughter and fun.
However...every time Guy Fawkes night rolled by on November 5th, Tiswas's presenters would temporarily switch from their tomfoolery and become stone faced, warning all us kids of the perils of throwing bangers, returning to a Catherine Wheel once lit and above all not picking up a sparkler by the wrong end.
Construction sites and farms were amusement parks for adventurous kids. If you ever had the misfortune to attend a school showing of Apaches, you NEVER horsed around on a farm again (as far as I know this is the only film to feature the on screen drowning of a small boy....in a vat of pig manure).
At school we would be read stories that focussed on the fun and magical elements of life. We would sit cross legged on the floor while the teacher read us a story before final prayers and Home Time. And every now and then we'd get one that scared us into not doing something. I still vividly recall the weeping kittens from The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches, who cried just a little too late to save Harriet from burning to death after she played with fire. I was 6 when Mrs Clayton read F2 that one.
Lectures from our parents would focus on the dire, dire consequences of going off with people we didn't know, or alternatively of simply ignoring what they told us to do. My mother's favourite story to get my to finish my Cornflakes was of a little boy who didn't eat his breakfast, went out in the snow....and died.
Over the years and decades, we have lost this mentality. Showing children the Death Card is now deemed to be excessive, traumatising and even bullying.
Which brings me back to Coby Persin.
In an era where we are meant to "reason with and educate" our children into following rules that will keep them alive, no one believes that, with the right amount of patient understanding and reasoning, their little Jonathan or Julia will ever do something stupid (unless of course they are led astray by someone else's brats). In an age of mass communication and instant access to knowledge, people want to think that everything is just hunky dory.
I'm an assistant instructor at a junior Krav Maga class for little children. They are aged between 5 and 11 and we teach them how to defend themselves against being picked up, grabbed or pulled by an adult. One game involves them in teams, trying to run past us, while we stand there in helmets, groin guards and shin pads trying to stop them. Above all we let these children know that if an adult does or tries to do something to them that they don't like then they are to create as much noise as they can and get the hell out of there. They are taught also that struggling, yelling and inflicting pain on a grown up will give them an edge and an advantage. A 6 year old will NEVER win a fight with an adult...but they can make themselves enough of a nuisance that the adult will put them down and leave them alone.
Coby's video is badass on so many levels, not least of all for the maturity he shows in making it when he only graduated High school 3 or 4 years ago. Criticisms I've read levelled at this film (some from friends of mine from the link I shared on Facebook, in the comments section) are that this is sensationalist and the parents plus Coby are merely humiliating these girls for money and publicity. They argue that shaming them in this way is counter productive as it means the girls will be traumatised.
Experiencing what they did and having their parents there to tell them at the time just how fucking stupid they were is EXACTLY what they needed. Something I've not seen anyone flag up yet, is that the parents would never have revealed themselves if their daughters hadn't gone as far as they did. If Mikaela had walked away in the park when Coby stood up and introduced himself, her father wouldn't have burst out from behind a rock shouting at her. If Julie hadn't opened the front door, then her dad wouldn't have been hugging her as she cried while he reminded her that her mother was dead and he couldn't lose Julie too. And if Jenna hadn't got into the van with Coby late at night (read that to yourself again slowly) then her folks wouldn't have burst forward wearing balaclavas pretending to be kidnappers while Coby grabbed her arm.
This video showed a very scary and sobering story of just how gullible some people can be, particularly kids. Especially kids who think they are in control of their worlds because they are so adept at using social media. A world that is blind and deaf to those who wish to make it so.
Coby , I salute you.