By: T.J. Hug
The Village Reporter
People today are way too informative.
Thanks to the internet, particularly its social media functions, discovering a wide array of information about almost anyone is as easy as a few clicks of a mouse. Of course, those born before the dawn of the information superhighway are highly susceptible to the lures and baits put forth by internet predators, falling victim to life-altering crimes such as identity theft and blackmail. Yet those who grew up with such a valuable and dangerous tool at their disposal are surely better apt at protecting themselves from the horrors surfing the web alongside them.
Actually, the answer is no, most of the time. As it turns out, the inexperience of youth far outweighs the natural familiarity those born in the age of technology may have with the internet.
This is precisely why the administrative forces at Edon Northwest Local Schools saw fit to bring in an expert to educate their charges on the risks involved in interacting with people they don’t know on the web. They looked to Brant Cook, Director of the Crimes Against Children Initiative, and a prosecutor with experience trying cases of internet crimes on both the state and federal levels, in order to properly articulate the severity of making just one foolish decision on social media.
Cook’s first item of business was to inform the crowd of high school students that he wasn’t there to try and convince them to restrict their use of the web.
“I’m not going to tell you today to stay off the internet.” Cook explained.
He also shared with his audience that some of the same concerns that frequent his own home as well, referencing his own children.
“They’re nine and six, and they’re on the internet.”
Giving examples of several instances of risky behavior in which to conduct on social media, Cook brought up a list of common occurrences that tend to get kids into trouble. Engaging in rude or mean messages, posting inappropriate photos, and speaking on adult subject matter are all things that happen on the Facebook pages of many a teen, or even a pre-teen, much more often than most would care to believe. Yet, each has the potential to carry dire consequences if they reach the wrong person on the other end of a monitor.
Going on to explain how to recognize an internet predator in most cases, Cook surprisingly described a fairly straightforward person. Typically male, the virtual assailant tends to be honest about their adulthood when speaking with potential victims. They’re also clear about their intentions a great deal of the time.
The process of grooming, used by predators to entice their youthful prey, was detailed by Cook as well. Flattering and the sending of gifts are usually the start of their dark, disgusting crusade. Trust is then nurtured through the discussion of adult subjects and the free exchange of secrets. They’ll then most likely ask for inappropriate images of their target, sometimes going so far as to send some of themselves to encourage an unsuspecting child to do the same. Once they have one of those photos, even just a mildly revealing one, things begin to escalate quickly.
It’s called Sextortion. A slightly revealing picture of the victim is used to threaten the victim into taking much more laud photos. A predator claims that if they don’t receive these more detailed images, they will post the initial one onto a pornographic website. Embarrassed, ashamed, and dumbstruck, the young internet user feels as though they have no choice but to comply.
There’s always a choice, though.
“If it happens to you, you need to report it.” Cook demanded. “They they can get acquainted with somebody like me.”
The topic of cyberbullying was also discussed by Cook. Used to describe brutal social media interactions, including mean comments, the creation of hate groups, the spreading of rumors and gossip, identity theft, and the use of Photoshop to alter photos into embarrassing images, the term has become commonplace within school hallways. The former prosecutor reminded the Edon students that such tactics are not just worthless cannon fodder in high school rivalries.
“The things you say online are a big part of our lives.” Confirmed Cook. “Those comments do mean something.”
Victims of cyberbullying are encouraged to not feed into their torment by responding to their bully. Instead, they should simply save the evidence, block the offending profile from their accounts, and talk to an adult about the situation.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Junior High and High School Principal Anthony Stevens addressed the crowd as well.
“I think that this is an incredibly important message.” Stevens proclaimed on the event as a whole.
This matter is one that strikes a little close to home for Stevens. Though it was not of an inappropriate nature, he did discover recently that a picture of himself, taken on the Ohio State University campus after a sporting event, has been posted on the internet for the last decade and a half.
“I never expected to be standing here, talking about a picture I took hanging out with my friends at the Oval fifteen years ago.”
Superintendent John Granger also spoke to the student body. He made it very clear that no one should be trusted with vulgar images of a person, no matter how close the two people may be at the time it is sent.
“Whoever is your friend today, may not be your friend tomorrow.” Reminded Granger.
He also pointed out that, as a prospective employer, the district will do their due diligence during the hiring process as well.
“We will be like detectives, investigating potential employees for this school district.”
Granger went on to explain how the discovery of inappropriate pictures led to a canceled interview for a candidate of a teaching position at a larger school in which he worked.
No matter what dangers may lurk in the dark recesses of the world wide web, there is one surefire way for people of all ages to avoid them.
One should never post vital information about oneself!
T.J. Hug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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