Breighanna Vigor and her family got a first-hand view of the dangerous side of social media when she and her friends began receiving Facebook messages from a strange man last fall. He claimed to be a teenage girl looking to buy a dress, but was actually a 48-year-old convicted sex offender.
Fortunately, the girls were suspicious of the messages enough and brought them to their parents’ attention, and within a few days, the FBI had gotten involved. With her permission, agents used Vigor’s Facebook profile to communicate with the stranger in hopes of identifying him.
From that point on, Garnett James Llyod thought he was messaging Vigor, who is currently a senior at Mary G. Montgomery High School. Over time, the conversations grew more and more inappropriate until Lloyd was harassing, threatening and blackmailing who he thought was a 16-year-old girl.
While Vigor never actually directly communicated with Lloyd, the experience was still difficult for her and her family as they spent weeks not knowing who or where the messages were coming from.
“With the number of girls he was reaching out to in this area, there had to have been some sort of connection to Mobile,” Vigor’s mother, Cricket Vigor, said. “There were times I was called by the agent and asked, ‘Do you know where she is? Can you put your hands on her? I’m not sure if he’s going to make good on this threat or not.’ That’s not something that any parent ever wants to hear.”
It was eventually revealed Lloyd had previously traveled to Mobile for work, but before anything happened, he was identified by the FBI and arrested by authorities in North Carolina. In August, he was sentenced to five years in federal prison for cyberstalking — his fifth conviction for a sexually-based crime.
Breighanna Vigor and her family were there in the courtroom, and one thing that stuck out in her mother’s mind was that Breighanna was nearly “victim number five.” In a world where children are getting their own devices at younger ages and logging on to social media earlier than ever, Cricket Vigor said she believes children and their parents still have a lot to learn about the risks that come with online access.
Now, as Miss Mobile Bay and a Miss Alabama contestant, Breighanna Vigor is using her experience to educate other teenagers and their parents about online safety. After earning the title in October, she decided to make those efforts her social impact initiative, which she is calling “Rising Up Against Online Predators.”
Speaking at public functions, churches and in radio and TV appearances, Vigor is sharing her story along with tips on how to better recognize fake profiles and inappropriate contact. She’s also sharing a message her mother has routinely driven home: “Not everyone needs to be allowed into your life.”
“Teenagers are mainly focused on the number of followers and likes they have — it’s all about quantity, not quality,” Breighanna Vigor said. “That is a societal problem. We put so much emphasis on being ‘Instagram famous’ or ‘a social media star’ that teens think it’s OK to accept anybody and everybody as their friend.”
That said, Vigor did say being connected is important … especially for young adults. As an accomplished cross country runner, a member of the Azalea Trail Court and the newly crowned Miss Mobile Bay, she is involved in a number of activities that require her to network with others.
However, she told Lagniappe she tries to limit what she shares about her personal life online — limiting what she posts about on social media to things like personal achievements, events, family trips, etc.
“I post things that don’t dive too deep into my day-to-day life,” she said. “I try to keep my personal business off the internet. I’m not going to go onto Facebook and post a rant if I’ve had a bad day.”
Vigor plans to keep pushing her social impact initiative as she continues to prepare for the Miss Alabama Pageant in June 2020, but regardless of the outcome, Cricket Vigor said she is proud of her daughter for turning a bad situation into something that could help to educate others.
Even if the conversation is uncomfortable, she encouraged parents to make a concerted effort to get more involved in what their children are doing online and who they’re doing it with — especially after Christmas when millions of young people are logging on with new devices for the very first time.
“Whenever you put that device in their hands, that may be the one opportunity that you have,” Cricket Vigor said. “We work so hard to protect bank accounts and other personal information that we put online, but are we doing enough to protect our children?”
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