Parents Try to Walk Tightrope of Internet and Social Media Safety

March 14, 2014

by Andrew P. Belliveau

A handful of Litchfield and Hudson parents gathered in the Campbell High School Library on Monday to discuss one of the 21st Century’s most compelling issues: internet and social media safety for their kids.  Detective David Cayot of the Hudson Police led the discussion, informing parents of the various forms of communication students today are engaging in through the use of technology.  Sample applications that were under discussion were Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, and ooVoo.  Aiding Detective Cayot with the discussion were Jodi Callinan, Campbell High School’s director of guidance, as well as Mike Corl, Campbell High’s resource officer.

Students in today’s society have a vastly different lifestyle than their parents did just a few decades ago.  Parents used to have to sift through thousands of entries in their local library’s card catalogue, wielding the Dewey Decimal system as the key to information that may or may not even exist within the text they pull off the shelves.  People still called each other on phones that were tied to the wall, and a photograph was an image that you needed to pay for and get developed.  Today students may not suffer from the difficulty of communication and finding information.  Instead, they struggle with over-indulgence and the ease of access to information, photography, and video.  Everything is literally at their fingertips, whether that’s good or bad.

There is no doubt that social media and the Internet are extremely useful, aiding the human race in continuing to advance itself.  Never before have students had the ability to stay in touch with that best friend from pre-school that moved half-way across the country several years ago.  The technology was created with good intentions, but like anything there are going to be misuses.  This is especially the case when put into the hands of uneducated children whom are simply not thinking about long-term consequences.

Detective Cayot discussed the sensitivity of information posted onto the net through any of the major social media outlets.  “When they are home and alone in a room, they’re not thinking about the consequences,” Detective Cayot stated.  He discussed what may be just a little bit of venting to some friends on Facebook or Twitter about wanting to “kill” someone for being annoying can turn into an investigation of bullying if seen by the eyes of adults.  What may be a simple comment everybody has said from time to time, the implications of posting it online are much, much worse.  There, it’s permanent for eyes everywhere to see.

Detective Cayot described a useful analogy on how to judge if something should be posted publicly online.  “If you would shout it in an auditorium full of people, then go ahead and post it – that’s essentially what you’re doing.”  Detective Cayot drove home the point that it is this way of thinking that need to be taught to students because most simply do not think about what they’re doing, the complications, and whether or not these actions will affect themselves or others.  It can be easy to say things someone normally wouldn’t say in person when sitting behind a screen.

The second hot topic issue Detective Cayot brought up was sexting.  Through social media, sexting has blown up to be a large issue, whereas a few years ago it was condensed to photographs solely being transmitted through text messages.  Snapchat, a photo-sharing app for smartphones, allows the transmission of images (and video) at a time limit of 1-10 seconds that is pre-determined by the sender.  In theory, once the time limit is up the photo is gone forever.  However, one of the basic features of most (if not all) smartphones is the ability to take a screenshot of whatever application is currently active.  This does not exclude Snapchat.

However personal these photographs and videos may be, many students undoubtedly float through several middle and high school relationships.  This means that once any relationship is terminated, nude photos that had been sent are still in existence.  If either person harbors any resentment, these photos have a high likelihood of being posted online – and there are websites to help people with that.  One of these sites is called anonib.com, and is a forum-based website that allows photos to be posted and categorized by state, town, and even school of attendance.  This website is the basis of several ongoing investigations, and is very difficult to get photos removed from because of its mystery owners.  It began in the U.S. and has successfully been taken down several times, but simply pops back into existence in a different location of the world due to the content being backed up.  Currently, it is located on servers in South America.

Detective Cayot discussed horror stories of students’ photographs being leaked online to websites such as anonib.com.  “Taking pornographic images of yourself can ruin lives and haunt you for years to come.  Students simply don’t think about the consequences, thinking it won’t happen to them,” Cayot stated.  He then went on to tell a story about a girl who had sent photos to her boyfriend at the age of 16.  The images leaked online, and the girl is now struggling to find a job at the age of 22 because the photos show up during background checks with a simple Google search of her name.  “Sure, images can be removed from the net, but it’s not easy.  Even if you do manage to get them removed, they can re-appear in a flash if someone had downloaded it locally to his or her computer, anywhere in the world,” Cayot explained.  Statistics from the University of New Hampshire in spring 2011 show that 20 percent of teens ages 13 to 19 have sent nude photographs of him/herself.  This number has no doubt risen over the past three years with the increasing popularity of smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

In closing, Detective Cayot and Officer Mike Corl encouraged parents to talk with their kids about the consequences of engaging in inappropriate activities online.  He also encouraged the use of parental control technology on student devices.  “It’s difficult because a lot of the times, the students will out-smart the parents with technical knowledge and be able to get around the barriers.  But the best you can do is try,” Corl stated.  He went on to explain: “If you feel that something wrong is going on, you have the right to go through your kid’s car, phone, computer, etc.  If you paid for it, it’s your property.”  Protecting your kids should be parents’ number-one priority, and in this new age of technology that most parents don’t understand completely, it can be difficult.  “We deal with social media issues almost every day here at Campbell High School,” Corl said.  “They’ll thank you later.”