Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Protecting Privacy on Facebook

Earlier in the month, Facebook changed its privacy settings and gave users more control over how they keep their information on the widely popular social networking site private. It is important for students (and adults) to understand what type of information they are making available about themselves online in social networks. It can be very easy to inadvertently share information, photos and videos about yourself that can lead to negative consequences in both your personal and professional life. eSchool News posted a great article that gives information on things to look for when determining the type of privacy settings you put on your Facebook profile. I would share these tips with students and anyone else you know that has an account on Facebook:

How to protect your privacy on Facebook

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FTC Launches Cyber Safety Booklet

The Federal Trade Commission's cyber safety website, OnGuard Online, has just released a free internet safety booklet aimed to inform parents and teachers on how to talk to kids about cyber safety. The booklet, entitled, Net Cetera, covers a variety of internet safety topics including, cyberbullying, sexting, phishing, digital citizenship, file sharing, social networking and protecting your computer. One interesting thing about this new resource is that it gives parents advice on how to talk to their kids based on age group. It has a section on how to approach internet safety with young kids, a section on tweens and a section on teens. The booklet also has a glossary section, which is very helpful to parents who do not know some of the technology terms their children use on a daily basis. One other very cool thing about this booklet is that you can order them in print, for free, from http://bulkorder.ftc.gov./. You can order them in bulk, so the next time you have parent conferences or an open house, this might be a great piece of information to have on hand to give out to families!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Digital Abuse Study

MTV and the Associated Press recently released the results of a digital abuse survey they administered online to 1,247 participants. The report sheds some light on the digital behaviors of males and females ages 14-24. Some of the key findings of the survey are that 50% of the respondents report that they have experienced some sort of digitally abusive behavior including spreading lies, violation of trust, and digital disrespect. One conclusion of this study finds that more than half of the people who claim to be victims of cyberbullying report that they were "very" or "extremely" upset by it. The survey also found that there is an association between digital abuse and mental health, reporting that young people who have been cyberbullied are twice as likely to report that they have received treatment from a mental health professional (13% to 6%) and three times more likely to consider suicide.

The survey also asked participants questions about sexting behaviors. The report found that while only about 10% of respondents (13% female vs 9% male) reported sharing a naked image of themselves, 30% of all respondents say they have been involved in some type of naked sexting whether it be receiving, sending, or forwarding naked images. The most popular reasons given for forwarding sexts were that respondents thought other people would want to see them (52%), they had a desire to show off (35%), they did it as a joke (31%), and they were bored (26%).

One alarming finding of the survey is that a good number of participants revealed that they do not think about the consequences that their online behavior could have in their lives. Only 51% of young people surveyed say that they have thought about the idea that things they post online could get them in trouble with the police. Only 28% have considered they could get in trouble at school and just 29% with jobs considered that they could get in trouble with their boss for what they post online. It continues to be very important to teach students that what they put online can have negative consequences in their daily lives. The study also found that digital abuse targets young people of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. The executive summary of the report can be read here.

MTV has launched a new website in conjunction with the release of this survey. The site is called a thin line and contains resources on digital abuse, including digital harassment, cyberbullying and sexting. The site also contains strategies for young people on how to avoid digital abuse as well as discussion forums on these topics.

Cell phones and texting technology can also be used for positive things as evidenced in this article published by eSchoolNews last week. The article reports how police in communities across the country are accepting anonymous text messages from tipsters to help solve and prevent crimes. Boston was specifically mentioned as the first city to heavily promote a Text-a-Tip program and which is credited for for providing key leads in at least four murder cases. It is also a great way for young people, who might otherwise fear being targeted for snicthing, to let police know about threats and other crimes anonymously.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Technology and the Law

There was a fascinating article on CNN.com the other day that asked the question, "Can Technology Keep up With the Law?" This is a very thought provoking article about real life cases of libel, slander and freedom of speech. The article explores some of the reasons why the law is usually about five years behind developing technologies and talks about how we have started to enter a "world without anonymity" in which the details of our lives are put online through social media sites. This is a great article to stimulate a classroom discussion or debate about freedom of speech and internet law.

Monday, November 23, 2009

'Tis the Season for Cyber Safety

With the holiday season upon us, a lot of cybersecurity blogs and websites are publishing strategies for people to utilize in order to stay safe online. As more people are using the internet to shop during the months of November and December, there are a lot of scams out there designed to steal your personal financial information. Here are some helpful articles with tips that you can use to keep your identity and other data safe online.
  • This article from CNET.com is about how you can recognize and avoid phishing e-mails. Phishing attcks attempt to trick a person into giving up their personal information such as bank account passwords and credit card numbers. Phishing emails can sometimes be hard to spot, so it is important to know what to look for.
  • Computerworld security offers a look at five things that people do to put themselves at risk to hackers and other online criminals.
  • OnGuard Online , a site maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, has a helpful tip guide for shopping online anytime throughout the year.
  • Internet security company, McAfee, is warning users of the "12 Scams of Christmas" in this article posted by CNET.com.
The internet is a fantastic way to keep in touch with family and friends during the holidays. It is also great for avoiding the mall crowds by shopping from the comfort of your own home, just remember to follow the safety guidelines that were published in the above articles. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

State Lawmakers Discuss Bills on Bullying Crackdown

Eric Esteves, of OIIT TechBoston, passed along this recent Boston Globe article about a number of bills scheduled for hearings this week that would crack down on bullying among schoolchildren. The article describes some real life examples of bullying and cyberbullying experiences from Massachusetts teenagers. With the rise in high profile bullying cases, most notably the suicide of an 11 year old Springfield boy earlier this year, supporters of the bills believe that anti-bullying legislation will be passed. Approximately 37 other states have already passed bullying prevention statutes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What are You Doing about Bullying?

The UK government recently released a study of 10,000 teenagers that states 47% have experienced some sort of bullying. The most common form of bullying that they faced was name calling and cyberbullying. The age in which bullying is the most prevalent, according to the study, is 14. The National Crime Prevention Council here in the United States has published similar statistics. Their website states that 43% of students they surveyed have experienced some type of cyberbullying. It is important to teach students strategies on how to deal with cyberbullies. First, the victims need to talk about it with someone. Of the 43% of students surveyed by the National Crime Prevention Council, only 11% talked to their parents about incidents of cyberbullying. The recent UK study found that the students of parents who reported bullying, were less likely to be bullied in the future.

There are many resources for teachers and parents to help students learn strategies to prevent and deal with cyberbullying. The Seattle Public Schools created an entire curriculum about cyberbullying. The National Crime Prevention Council also has many resources on their website to help parents and teachers learn more about cyberbullying prevention. You can also read past posts on cyberbullying with links to resources here in the BPS Internet Safety Blog.

There are some school based activities happening here in the Boston Public Schools surrounding cyberbullying. Mike Gavin, a teacher at the Harbor School, is teaching his eighth grade students about cyberbullying and cyberstalking. The students are in the process of creating blogs and using those blogs to communicate safe internet strategies. Way to go Mr. Gavin! We look forward to reading what the students have to say about cyberbullying and learning from them.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How far can a school go in punishing students for online behavior?

This is a good article to print out and use in your classroom to generate discussions with your students about online behavior. I first saw a link to this article while reading Net Family News, a great place to go for internet safety news and resources.

The Washington Post ran a very interesting article this week in which two Indiana high school students were disciplined for posting photos of themselves on MySpace that were deemed inappropriate by the school. The two female students were banned from extracurricular activities and forced to apologize to a panel of coaches as punishment. The ACLU has stepped in on behalf of the students and is suing the school for violating the students' rights to freedom of speech. They contend that the pictures were taken during a sleepover in the summer and has had no disruptive effect inside of school.

This is a very interesting debate and discussion that you can have with the students in your classroom. What do your students think about this punishment? What are their arguments to back up their position? What could the students in this situation and the school have done differently to avoid this situation?

Another important aspect of this article to note is that the girls who posted the photos of themselves set their pictures with privacy settings so that only their friends were able to see them, not the general public. However, these pictures were copied, printed and got into the hands of school officials somehow. It is so important to stress that nothing you put online should be considered 100% private.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

BPS Internet Safety Campaign Presents at MassCue Conference

On Wednesday, October 28, Eric Esteves and Joe Kidd presented a session about the BPS Cyber Safety Campaign at the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators Conference. The Conference took place at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and drew teachers, principals and tech directors from districts all across the state. During the session Eric and Joe shared information with other educators on what the Boston Public Schools is doing to educate the community about internet safety. They spoke about how the campaign was started, how TST's in the system became iSAFE certified and were asked to do internet safety activities in their schools. They also spoke about the very important partnerships that have been created between the BPS and other outside agencies over the past few years. These partnerships include Microsoft, Bunker Hill Community College, the Boston Police Department, the Boston District Attorney's Office, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and the Mayor's Office. It would be impossible to put on this campaign without their help and support. Joe shared what the Office of Instructional and Information Technology's outreach to schools has been during the campaign. He gave a sample of the different types of presentations and workshops OIIT has done for elementary, middle and high schools as well as community centers and parent groups.

A lot of the educators in the session were already performing internet safety related activities within their schools, but wanted to know how they could take it further, especially with high school age students. Eric did a great job sharing with the group how he engages BPS high school students through the Cyber Safety Mentor Program. He also explained how the summer intern program draws on students' creative design talents and presentation skills. All of the student interns receive internet safety and presentation skills training. They then develop internet safety lessons that they bring out to educate the community. Last summer, they gave over 90 cyber safety presentations to over 5,000 children! The students also created new cyber safety materials that are available for download from the BPS cyber safety website. During the presentation at MassCue, Eric shared those materials with the teachers who were in attendance. They left the session with posters, buttons, bookmarks and the BPS cyber safety comic book. Below is a presentation of the materials that were shared with the participants during the MassCue conference.

Friday, October 16, 2009

President Obama on CyberSecurity

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama released a video about Cyber Security Awareness Month. In the video, the president stresses the importance of keeping our computer networks safe. President Obama also states that he has created a new white house cyber security office which will be led by a cyber security coordinator he will appoint in the future.

During cybersecurity month, some websites are stepping up their efforts to provide quality cybersafety materials. Stay Safe Online has an entire section of their site dedicated to October being cyber security awareness month. They have links to resources, ideas on how to educate your students and schedules of cybersafety events across the country. Google is also celebrating cyber security awareness month. They have recently created the Google Cyber Security Awareness Channel on YouTube with videos dedicated to internet safety. They have also written various blog posts with cyber safety tips including choosing a smart password. Also, be sure to check out the Boston Public School's cyber safety website and resources!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

$22,500 per Song

If you have some students that think there are no consequences to sharing copyrighted music through peer to peer networks, have them read this article. Over the summer, a Boston University graduate student by the name of Joel Tenenbaum was ordered to pay a total of $675,000 in damages for illegally downloading 30 songs and sharing them online. Now, this is only the second lawsuit of this nature to go to trial, but many students have had to pay thousands of dollars in settlements to record companies in the past. It is important for students to understand that there can be consequences to illegally sharing copyrighted material online. The defendant in the case actually admitted to the charge while on the stand, but his defense is that he had the right to download and share songs under the fair use doctrine of copyright law. His lawyer, Harvard law professor Charles Nesson, was never allowed to argue this position in the original lawsuit and is hoping to in an appeal. This is a very high profile case that could have long lasting effects on how copyright law is enforced on the internet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Avoiding Scareware.

You have probably seen it on your computer at one time or another. You are surfing the internet and then a window pops up and says something to the effect that your computer has been infected with a virus and to click here for a free scan. The windows look legitimate, and it looks like you are using a real antivirus program to scan your system, but it is not. It is a piece of software called "scareware". Scareware is defined as a type of malware designed to trick victims into purchasing and downloading useless and potentially dangerous software. Usually, when a person's computer is infected with this type of program, pop-ups will plague the screen until you download their supposed anti-virus software. This type of malicious program is also called "ransomware" because it will slow down your computer and cause all kinds of problems until you pay the money for the download. Some of these fake anti-virus programs look very legitimate and professional. They have names and graphics that look just like authentic anti-virus programs. The best way to protect yourself from this situation is to not click anywhere on the pop up window. Close the entire browser instead of clicking the "x" in the pop up. Even clicking that "x" can cause an infection in some cases. If you can't close the entire browser, use "ctrl-alt-delete" to quit out of the browser. Make sure your computer has legitimate anti-virus software installed, know the name of the software and know how it is updated. For example, the BPS uses Symantec AntiVirus for all of the computers. The updates are automatically pushed through the network. If you get a pop up for any other anti-virus software, it is probably going to be a scam.

Friday, September 25, 2009

NCMEC Policy Statement on Sexting

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently released a policy statement about sexting. The consequences of sexting is dependent on what state you live in as well as the circumstances surrounding the case. This policy statement does a nice job of providing information regarding sexting, including examples, resources, and factors that should be considered in each sexting situation. It is a good resource if you are trying to educate parents and students not only about what sexting is, but also what sexting is not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Teaching About Copyright

Understanding copyright law and how it applies in the digital age can be very confusing for both teachers and students. Teaching students to correctly cite their sources, avoid plagiarism along with distinguishing between valid and invalid information online is difficult. Northern Kentucky University recently launched a website called Creative Thinking which includes lessons, videos and student activities about copyright. According to the site, the lessons can be used with middle school through high school students. The site has some copyright basics for educators and a soon to be released teachers' guide.

Wesley Fryer
, who has a great educational technology blog, posted his presentation for educators about copyright. The presentation has audio and visual slides that cover copyright, Creative Commons and resources teachers can use for the classroom. Within this presentation, he talks about a copyright and media literacy resource from Temple University called the Media Education Lab. This site also contains videos, lessons and resources that educators can use with their students.

Friday, September 11, 2009

5000 Kids Get Smart About Cyber Safety This Summer

The Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Cyber Safety Campaign is a unique program aimed at educating young people in Boston communities about safe Internet behaviors. Designed by BPS kids for kids, the Cyber Safety Campaign materials and activities were created to educate youth and their families everywhere about how to best protect their online activities and experiences.

Launched four years ago by the BPS Office of Instructional and Information Technology (OIIT), the program has continued to grow with new Cyber Safety Campaign materials and activities being developed every year. The graphic design concept, created by BPS students, features the BPS Cyber Safety Heroes – Amika, Shield, Copyright and Firewall. These super heroes help deliver the message to kids about the best ways to be safe on-line. The educational materials are being used in several elementary and middle schools in the City of Boston. Felicia Vargas, the BPS administrator who oversees the program, has set a goal of having the materials distributed to all kindergarten though eighth-grade BPS classrooms during the 2009 – 2010 school year.

This summer, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Microsoft and the Boston Society of Information Management, the BPS was able to continue the successful Cyber Mentor program. This program, overseen by the BPS TechBoston department (a division of OIIT), hires and trains high school students to serve as Cyber Safety Mentors. Once trained, the Cyber Safety mentors are deployed to community-based organizations and summer camp programs to conduct cyber safety educational presentations. During the summer months, nine Cyber Mentors fanned out in teams across the city and succeeded in giving 90 presentations and reaching over 5,000 people! Dressed in their blue T-shirts with the turquoise blue BPS Cyber Safety Campaign logo, the Cyber Mentors used the BPS cyber safety materials, including a movie, comic book, trading cards, key chains and buttons to spread the safety message to kids attending summer programs at churches, Boston Centers for Youth and Families, YMCAs and even Fenway Park! The Cyber Mentors were also co-presented at two Internet safety presentations in August conducted for the BPS School Police with Eric Esteves and Joe Kidd from the BPS technology department.

The Summer 2009 Cyber Mentor team included Darnell Coleman and Antoinette Jean from the John D. O'Bryant School of Math & Science, Idris Ali from East Boston High School, Hansey Blanfort from Madison Park HS, Cassandra Clark, Chloe Lynn and Aaron Sheffield from TechBoston Academy, Shaquille White from Brighton High School and Chavella Lee who attends Boston Latin Academy.
 Two BPS graduates, Vasantee Reddicks and Rachel Gaffney, were tapped by TechBoston to oversee the summer project.

For more information about the BPS Cyber Safety Campaign, visit www.bpscybersafety.org

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cyberbullying Curriculum From Seattle Public Schools

The Seattle Public Schools has spent the last two years or so developing a middle school curriculum. Mike Donlin, one of the authors of the curriculum, recently contacted us to let us know about the free curriculum that is posted online. Here is what he had to say:

I want to pass along the link to the cyberbullying curriculum which we here in Seattle are rolling out to help ensure online safety for all our students.


The curriculum you find here is complete and useable. However, it is not
done. We continue to add more wonderful student writing activities and home-school-classroom communications as we move along. We are also working on a set of extended "culminating activities" for teachers and students.. As they are added, we will seamlessly change out the pages. We are also hoping to get some good feedback as people use the evaluation/feedback forms which are included on the web site with the materials. Even as we say that, we also know that this curriculum will never be really done. Things change too much and too fast for that. The materials were designed to be incorporated into ongoing bullying prevention programs. However, the individual Lessons were created to be flexible enough shorter classroom meeting-type settings or to be used in longer classrooms periods. If they are used in longer classroom settings, they would also fit nicely into existing Technology, Health and Language Arts units. They can also be used as stand-alones within an Exploratory-type setting.

So check these resources out this summer if you are looking to integrate some cyber-safety lessons in your middle school classroom next year!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Three BPS Students Named Winners of Mass State Internet Safety Poster Contest

Three students from two different Boston Public Schools have been named as winners in the Commonwealth's 2009 Kids Safe Online Cyber Security Awareness poster contest. The statewide contest challenged students to create hand drawn posters depicting internet safety strategies such as being careful not to download viruses, not giving out personal information on the internet, not cyberbullying, and not meeting anyone “offline” that you’ve only met online. Ingrid from the John Eliot School and Tim and Daniel from the Joyce Kilmer School had their posters chosen as finalists out of over 200 poster submissions from schools all over the state. Daniel's poster was named one of the top three finalists in the state and therefore will be submitted in a national competition. All thirteen winning entries will be formally recognized in a ceremony as part of National Cyber Security Month in October. You can view all thirteen posters on the Mass.gov website. The three winning entries from Boston are posted below.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Harmful Effects of Texting and the CyberSafety Campaign is on Facebook

Usually when we teach about internet safety, we don't talk so much about physical injury when using technology, but a recent New York Times article reported that some physicians are worried about repetitive stress injuries in teenagers that send a lot of text messages. Teenagers send and receive an average of 80 text messages per day according to the Nielsen Company. The article also explores how obsessive texting may lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety and distraction in school. There is even a psychologist from MIT who has studied texting among Boston area teenagers for the last three years. She found that texting may even cause a shift in how adolescents are developing. It is definitely a very interesting article, one worth reading. I guess the lesson would be to text in moderation!

I caught the CBS Sunday Morning show this weekend and they aired a story about sexting and the ongoing debate on how severely teens should be punished for sending nude or provocative photos via their cell phone or computer. The video of the story isn't up on the website, but the print story is there. This might be a helpful resource for teachers of older students to use if they want to integrate internet safety with a lesson on debating or persuasive writing. What should the punishment be for underage students who willingly send inappropriate pictures of themselves or others online?

The BPS Cybersafety Campaign is on Facebook!

Eric Esteves of Tech Boston created a page of Facebook for the BPS Cybersafety campaign. Still in its infancy, the page contains links, information, pictures and video of internet safety efforts in Boston. Search for it on Facebook and become a fan! Facebook is still blocked by the BPS network, so don't become a fan while you are on the school's network, become a fan outside of school and join the campaign!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Facebook in the News

A couple of interesting Facebook stories have been published in the news recently having to do with security of information. The first story has to do with cybersecurity and phishing attacks. Facebook has been plagued with these attacks over the past few weeks in which hackers are trying to acquire the login password information of Facebook users. The way that it works is that the hackers will send out a malicious link to the friends of already compromised Facebook accounts. When the user clicks on the link, it takes them to what looks exactly like the Facebook login page. Instead, it is a fake page that will send their username and password information to the criminals. The criminals can then access the user's Facebook account to send out more malicious links or other spam. One other result that can be disastrous for the user whose password information is stolen is if they use that same password for other site accounts as well, such as financial accounts. Criminal hackers know that it can be common practice for people to use the same username and password for multiple online accounts. Facebook has said they are cleaning up the problem, removing the phishing messages and resetting the passwords of compromised accounts. Some strategies to avoid this problem are:
  • Do not click on links that you are not sure are legitimate.
  • Check with the person who sent you the link to make sure they are the ones who sent you the link.
  • If the click on the link and it immediately takes you to a login page, it may be a phishing scam.
  • Do not keep the same password for all of your online accounts, especially accounts having to do with finances. I know it can be very difficult to keep track of multiple username and passwords, but keeping them seperate will help you avoid a much larger problem if one of them is ever stolen.
  • Periodically changing you passwords can also help to minimize damage if your data is ever stolen.
The other story in the news was sent to me by Felicia Vargas and is about college admissions officers scanning Facebook profiles before making final decisions on applicants. In a survey released by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling about 25% of colleges and universities said their admissions officers research prospective students' social-networking profiles before extending admission or scholarships. There was no data on how many of those said that their final decision was influenced because of social networking profiles. It has been known for a while that school admissions and employers may Google an applicants name, search YouTube, Facebook, MySpace or other social networking sites looking for information about that person beyond what they see on in application or in an interview. It is important that students know about their "digital footprint" and what they are leaving behind about themselves online. Check out blog article we posted last November with some of this same information and some links to safe social networking.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

H1N1 Virus Attention Attracts Scammers and Phishers

It seems that whenever there is a high impact news story that captivates the world, there are always criminals in the background waiting to prey on people's fears. So, with all the attention being given to the H1N1 Virus (Swine Flu), you also need to be wary of spam email and phishing attacks. There have been numerous reports of scammers sending out emails with titles about the Swine Flu. These emails can contain links or files that infect the user's computer with malware that will either damage the computer or steal personal data that is stored on the computer. Some emails that are being sent out claim to sell vaccines and exotic cures for the Swine Flu. While some scams are easy to spot, others are more difficult for people to pick up on including this example:

Another attack, reported by researchers at Symantec (NSDQ:SYMC), informed recipients of the swine flu disaster by incorporating a linked news headline from reputable news agencies. Users are asked whether they are in the U.S. or Mexico and whether or not they know anybody who is affected by the outbreak. Victims are then requested to share their experiences by filling in Web application forms or replying back with their e-mails and phone numbers. However, the online questionnaire is a way for scammers to steal identifying information from unsuspecting victims.

security experts recommend that users go directly to trusted news sources for information on the swine flu virus and avoid opening unsolicited e-mail messages and links.

You need to be careful about what information you are submitting about yourself online. Cnet.com recently published a very informative article titled, "FAQ: Demistifying ID Fraud" about identity fraud which answers these important questions:
  • How does the data get stolen from my computer?
  • If I don't use my credit or debit card on the Internet, how does the data get stolen?
  • What do the criminals do with the data when they get it?
This is a very informative article and also includes some links of sites to go to if you think you are a victim.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Consequences for Sexting

Three Students in Billerica, who were involved in a recent sexting case, will not face child pornography charges, according to an article in the Boston Herald. Instead of being criminally charged in the incident, the one 13 year old student and two 14 year old students will be required to attend cybersafety classes and will have the use of their cell phones restricted over the next 6 months. The boys who forwarded the photo will also perform 50 hours of community service. The students could have faced much more serious child pornography charges under Massachusetts state law.

More and more states are considering passing laws that specifically deal with sexting. A recent article in eSchool News gives examples of what some states are proposing. Vermont has a bill pending in the House that would create an exemption from prosecution for child pornography for 13- to 18-year-olds on either the sending or receiving end of sexting messages, so long as the sender voluntarily transmits an image of himself or herself. Ohio is another state that is working on legislation that would allow for teens caught sexting not to have to register as sex offenders. It is important for kids to understand, however, that even if these laws are put into place, that there are still consequences to their actions. Some of these states are taking away cell phone and internet use from offenders, as well as making them attend sexual harassment classes.

Most experts agree that teens need to be educated about the risks of sexting. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have a resource online called Think Before You Post which offers advice on sharing and posting personal information online.

Felicia Vargas and I recently presented to four classes of Middle School students at the McCormick Middle School as a part of their Health and Wellness Day. The main part of the presentation was about cyberbullying, but the organizers of the event asked us to add some information about sexting. So we dedicated the last 15 minutes of the presentation to discussing sexting and its consequences with the students. Most students knew what sexting is, and most admitted that they knew of someone who had sent or received a nude photo of someone on their phone. What a lot of them seemed surprised about were the legal consequences of sexting. We told them that they could get into serious trouble if they participate in this action, including being charged with distribution of child pornography. We also tried to explain that there are also serious emotional consequences to sexting. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the person who takes the photo of themselves doesn't think that it is going to be forwarded on to other people. Children need to understand that once they send a photo out by text, or post it online, that photo can then be passed along to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of other people. We asked students to remember these three important things:
  1. Be Smart: Think before you send any pictures out, understand that usually nothing you post is private in cyberspace.
  2. Be Strong: Don't give into pressure to do something you are not comfortable with, like sending a nude photo. Don't let your friends give into any pressure.
  3. Be Responsible: Don't ask someone to send a nude photo to you and don't forward nude photos to other people if you receive one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Morning America Story on Sexting

This Morning, Good Morning America aired a town hall style meeting with teens and parents about Sexting. The piece features Perry Aftab of Wired Safety giving parents a few tips on how to check and see if your child has posted anything inappropriate online. It also features a teenage girl and her mother who share how she sent a nude photograph of herself to her boyfriend, who then forwarded the picture on to other people after they broke up. Here is the link to the video:


Talk to your students and parents about Sexting. Let them know that Boston School Police and the Boston Police Department could prosecute students for breaking Massachusetts State child pornography laws including Chapter 272 Sections 28, 29, 29A, 29B, 29C. In summary, those laws basically say that you cannot distribute matter that is deemed harmful to minors, disseminate or possess obscene matter, or have anyone under the age of 18 pose for a picture in the state of nudity or engaged in sexual conduct. It is against the law for a picture to be taken and it is against the law for a person to forward that picture if they receive it.

Students that engage in this type of behavior could end up suffering serious consequences including arrest for a felony and registering as a sex offendor. Students who have taken nude photos of themselves and had them forwarded to unintended recipients have suffered severe emotional and psychological damage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Another Sexting Story

Another day, another story about teenage sexting. Leroy Wong, A colleague of mine sent a link to this story from CNN. It is another case in which a teen is convicted of a crime after he sent out a nude photo of his ex-girlfriend via cell phone to friends. As is the case in many of these incidents, his girlfriend willingly sent him the photo of herself. Angry, after an argument, the teen decided to send the picture of her out to other people. As a result, he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of sending child pornography. He is now a registered sex offender in the state of Florida until he is 43 years old. He can't leave the country without making special plans with his probation officer and he has trouble finding a job because he is a convicted felon.

There are more and more cases like this popping up all over the country and it has set off a debate on whether or not teenagers should be punished so severely for sexting. There are those who consider it child pornography and that the offenders should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Then there are those who think that it is just teen indiscretion, child pornography laws were not made to be enforced in these types of cases.

One of the more interesting things that came out of this article is about a survey done by CosmoGirl.com and National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. They surveyed about 1300 teens and young adults from ages 13-26 years old about sexting. Any of the findings they labeled as "teens" were from the group of 13-19 year olds. The results are very interesting including:
  • 20% of the teens surveyed have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves
  • 39% of the teens surveyed have sent sexually explicit messages
  • 75% of the teens surveyed say sending sexually suggestive content "can have serious negative consequences"
So, 3 out of 4 kids surveyed know that there are negative consequences associated with sexting, but some of them are doing it anyway. In fact 44% of the teens say it is common for these pictures and messages to be shared with other people than the intended recipient. So the question is why do they do it? Here are the answers according to the survey:

Among teens who have sent sexually suggestive content:
  • 66% of teen girls and 60% of teen boys say they did
    so to be “fun or flirtatious”— their most common
    reason for sending sexy content.
  • 52% of teen girls did so as a “sexy present” for their
  • 44% of both teen girls and teen boys say they sent
    sexually suggestive messages or images in response
    to such content they received.
  • 40% of teen girls said they sent sexually suggestive
    messages or images as “a joke.”
  • 34% of teen girls say they sent/posted sexually suggestive
    content to “feel sexy.”
  • 12% of teen girls felt “pressured” to send sexually
    suggestive messages or images.
Along with this very insightful survey, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy website gives tips to parents on how to talk to their children about sexting. They also have a great tip sheet for teens as well, one that should be shared with all texting teens.

Monday, March 30, 2009

60 Minutes Report on Cyber Security

60 Minutes ran a story last night about computer viruses and the notorious Conficker worm that has been spreading to networks across the world.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cyber Safety Mentors from the Greater Eggleston High School

Two weeks ago, the BPS Cybersafety Team was asked to present to the Greater Eggleston High School students as a part of their Health and Wellness Day at the school. The school lined up organizations to present on various issues of health and asked us to talk with their students about cyberbullying. So the team put together an hour long presentation for high school students about the different types of cyberbullying and strategies to avoid it. After the presentation, the students were encouraged to comment, ask questions, discuss what they just learned. The biggest response came when Felicia Vargas asked the group of students who would be interested in becoming a cybersafety mentor. The Greater Eggleston has a community service component in their curriculum and a lot of students expressed interest in becoming internet safety certified and teaching elementary school students about cybersafety strategies.

So this morning, three of those students came up to the offices of OIIT to become internet safety certified. They watched the videos from the iSAFE cybermentor certification program and we discussed the most important cybersafety strategies to teach elementary school students. Here were some of their ideas:

The students were quick to point out that the strategies to deal with cyberpredators were common sense things that a lot of teenagers already know, however, it is important for middle and elementary school students to understand that people sometimes misrepresent themselves online and try to take advantage of you.

On the topic of cyberbullying, the Eggleston mentors felt that it was important that students understand the consequences of their actions if they decide to be bullies. The consequences they have on their victims as well as the consequences they may face in school. They would also like to teach the students who are victims of cyberbullying to tell someone what is happening to them. They feel it is important that kids have someone who they trust to talk to and tell them if people are bullying them.

On the topic of Cybersecurity, the mentors felt that younger students need to learn how to be proactive when it comes to keeping their computers free of malware, instead of being reactive. One student said that she thinks most people don't learn about things like viruses and worms until they already have one on their computer and have to get it fixed. The solution they have is to teach students three important points about cybersecurity. First, they need to learn about what viruses, trojan horses and other malware are. Second, they need to understand how these things can affect their computers and third, they need to learn how to prevent malware from getting on their computers.

There were a lot more points that the cybermentors discussed this morning. They understood that their role in teaching internet safety strategies to elementary aged students is a very important one and all of them said that they felt that they were up to the challenge. They really want to bring their own experiences and real life examples into the classroom with them when they go out and teach those students. The next steps for them will be to go through some presentation skills training and practice what activities and lessons they will be using to teach students about staying safe online.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ID Theft - True Life Story

Okay, here is a true life story. The other day a friend of mine answers the phone. I hear him say to the caller, "No, I didn't make that purchase, nope, that one wasn't mine either." He talks for a few more minutes and then hangs up the phone. I asked him who called and he told me that his credit card company called because they noticed some irregular purchases on his account. Apparently, someone had gotten his credit card number and began to go on an online shopping spree. Luckily, the credit card company was on top of it, they notified my friend, put a stop on his card and notified the bank. After speaking to the bank, my friend decided to put a fraud alert with the major credit bureaus and file a complaint with the FTC. After an hour or two all of the work was done, and major damage to his credit was avoided. He does not know how his credit card account got into the hands of criminals, but he is very thankful that the credit card company was able to identify the issue and move quickly to stop it.

Identity theft rose by 22% in 2008, according to an article from CNET.com. A report on id theft was released last in February by Javelin Research. In the report it shows that electronic identity theft accounts for 22% of of reported cases. This data only reflects case of identity theft in which the victims know how their identity was stolen. Low tech methods of identity theft are still the most prevalent, with lost or stolen wallets the top method of identity thieves.

What can you do to protect yourself from electronic identity theft? Eric Esteves, from TechBoston sent a link to an article by Hiawatha Bray, who is an excellent technology reporter from the Boston Globe. He wrote this very helpful article about keeping your computer safe. The article explains antivirus software and how to keep Windows up to date. One piece of advice we never hear enough is not to download any software online unless it is from a reliable source! There are places online, such as download.com, that test programs for malware before they offer them to the public.

Sometimes, as is the case of data breaches, you have no control over if your personal data is stolen. Therefore, it is always a good idea to regularly monitor your credit report, and if you do see a problem, to contact your bank, credit card companies and credit bureaus immediately. The FTC website has a lot of great resources about identity theft and what you can do if you are a victim.

Friday, March 13, 2009

ABC World News Reports on 'Sexting'

ABC World New Tonight just aired a television report on Sexting. As we wrote in this blog last month, the media has really started to shed a light on this teenage cell phone practice.

Educate your children, there are many consequences to Sexting. One consequence is the chance that the picture you send will be sent to other people in your school, or posted online for the world to see. Another consequence is that you could be arrested for the picture you receive on charges of possession of child pornography.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some Social Networking in the News

There are many posts that I have been meaning to write about Social Networking for a little while now. Since I haven't been able to keep up with them, here are the articles that I wanted to share with a small synopsis about each.

Study of Risky Behavior of Teens on MySpace

The first article is about a study done by two doctors about risky behaviors exhibited by teenagers in MySpace. According to the results of the study, over half of the teenagers profiles contained mention of a risky behavior such as violence, substance abuse, or sexual activity. What I found most interesting, however, was the results of the follow up study. In the follow up study, one of the doctors sent a message to half of 190 of the teenagers that they found on MySpace who publicly displayed a risky behavior on their profile. The email to those teenagers warned tham about displaying that type of information online. As a result of the email, 42% of those teenagers withdrew references to their risky behaviors from their profiles. Educating students about the type of information they publicly display about themselves online is becoming more and more important.

Teen Sues Facebook and Ex-Classmates

This is an unfortunate, but all too familiar story about how social networks can be used as a tool to hurt other teenagers. A student from New York is suing former classmates for defamation over a Facebook page that was created about her. The Facebook page allegedly included defamatory statements about the teen and caused her much emotional distress. These types of online defamation lawsuits are increasing, but what makes this one particularly interesting is that Facebook is also being sued by the teen. It will be very interesting to follow this case and see if Facebook is held responsible for any of the content their users post about others.

Facebook Advice for Parents

This next resource is a blog post with some Facebook advice for parents. This blog posts raises an interesting question for parents, should you create a profile on the social network you child has a profile on to monitor them? I see two arguments, one being that these online spaces are for teenagers to talk, share, create and parents that go on them to keep tabs on their children are invading on privacy. The other argument is that it is a parent's responsibility to know what their child is posting online, what pictures and information they are making public, and who they are talking to. A good parent would monitor who their children's friends are in real life, right? This article provides some tips for those parents who want to become one of their child's online friends.

Cool Facebook Story

The next blog post offers a positive about using social networking. This is from David Warlick's blog, 2¢Worth, which is a great blog about educational technology integration. David's title to this blog post is "A Very Cool Story", to which I concur, it is a very cool story and demonstrates the enormous potential that social networking can have in gathering information and problem solving.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cyber Safety at the King Middle School

Representatives from the Boston Public Schools Office of Instructional and Information Technology were invited to present to students at the Martin Luther King Middle School today. OIIT was asked to educate about six classrooms of students about internet safety as a part of the King School Health Day. BPS Cyber Safety Campaign coordinator, Felicia Vargas, as well as Eric Esteves and Haruna Tada from Tech Boston put together a 40 minute presentation for the students about different topics of internet safety. The students first watched a short movie about internet safety called Jake's Cyber Adventure, written by and starring BPS High School students. After the movie, they led the students in a discussion and an activity about cyberbullying, cybersecurity, and online personal safety. The activity was a ten question quiz that used eInstruction classroom performance systems (clickers) to engage all of the students in the important discussion. I was not surprised that a large portion of these middle school students were very tech saavy and knew a lot about what we were discussing. It was also nice to connect with the students, hopefully we gave them some strategies to take away from the session today that will keep them a little safer while online.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kilmer Students Finalists in State Poster Contest!

I just received this email from Elaine McCabe over at the Joyce Kilmer Upper School:

I am very happy to announce that two of our fifth grade Upper School Kilmer students are semi-finalists in the 2009 State of Massachusetts Kids Safe Online Cyber Security Poster contest. In order for one of our Kilmer students to win, friends and family must vote electronically for the poster. The numbers you may want to consider in your voting process are Poster No. 33 or Poster No. 34. The poster with the highest votes will win a meeting and lunch with Governor Deval Patrick and that poster will be placed on the Massachusetts Cyber Website. Please forward this email to other interested individuals as we would like the Kilmer to be recognized for the great work that our students are producing on a daily basis. Be aware, one vote per person or email address. I have attached the email from the State with the link to view the posters and vote. IF YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO VOTE THROUGH THE STATE LINK, forward this email to your home address and please try it from there.

Thank you for your interest and support of our students

Congratulations to those two students and to all of the students at the Kilmer School who participated in the statewide internet safety poster contest!

Click here to vote for your favorite poster!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do You Know What Your Children are Texting?

As always, we adults are behind on the latest trends. The following trend is not new to students, it is just beginning to gain attention through the media. The trend is called “sexting” and it is when a person takes an inappropriate picture of themselves and texts someone with it. A lot of the articles I have read about this involve young teenage girls sending nude photos of themselves to boyfriends, or boys they like. Unfortunately, in some cases (or a lot of cases, depending on who you talk to) the pictures get passed on and sent to other students. A number of these situations have surfaced lately in schools both locally and nationally. ABC News.com has an article that explains what sexting is with some example cases. Police are arresting offenders for distribution of child pornography in some of these cases. In the article, Maris Nightingale makes a very important point saying that "it's crucial parents talk to their children about potential consequences, because while criminal charges are rare, compromising photos could easily come back to haunt the teens when they go to apply for college or their first job." Eric Esteves of TechBoston also sent along a Boston Herald article that asked a really good question. Do teens really think it is a big deal to send these types of pictures to each other?

Maybe we should ask them...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Julie Amero Interview on Good Morning America

The Julie Amero story has gained much national attention over the last few years. Julie was the substitute teacher from Connecticut who was convicted of child endangerment after pop-up windows containing pornographic material were visible on the computer in the classroom in which she was substituting for the day. Eventually, the conviction was overturned after it was proven that the culprit was spyware on the computer. Recently, Julie and her husband told their story of the experience to Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. The six minute interview is definitely worth watching.

The BPS does have filtering software in place to block pornographic sites, but no software is 100% effective. If your classroom computer is infected with malware (a virus, spyware, trojan horse, etc...), you could be putting your students and your files at risk. Make sure that the anti-virus software is up to date by having your TST run the login procedure that will update your desktop computer. If your TST does not know what the login procedure is to run an antivirus update, have them call the help desk. If you want to make sure that your L4L MacBook software is up to date, see the following video tutorial.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Threat of Online Predators?

By now, you may have heard about the internet safety report by a task force commissioned by 49 State Attorney Generals that has called online predator threats to children as overblown. If you haven't here is a quick synopsis:

As part of an agreement last year with MySpace, FaceBook and other social networking companies, an internet safety task force was created in conjunction with 49 Attorney Generals from across the United States. The Internet Safety task force from Harvard University, commissioned by the Attorney Generals, released the result of its study earlier this month in which concluded that the problem of bullying online and offline poses a more serious problem than sexual solicitation of minors online. This is in line with the results of a report published by the University of New Hampshire last year, which came up with the same conclusion. Both reports eschew the stereotype of the adult online predator that poses as a teenager to trick other teenagers into meeting them and then attacking them. Most scientific data of online sexual predators shows that children are unlikely to be sexually propositioned online by adults. Those that are, usually are willing participants in the conversations and tend to be more at risk teenagers who suffer from poor home environments, depression and severe self esteem issues. However, there are lots of teenagers who have poor home environments, and have low self esteem issues who are groomed and taken advantage of by online predators. Does this report downplay these threats? Some Attorney Generals think so, notably Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett. Attorney General Corbett has called the report misleading adding that the threat of internet predators is "real" and that his office has 183 internet predators in the last four years.

Now to add to the argument, the Center For Safe and Responsible Internet Use has issued a study in response to Attorney General Corbett's statements about the 183 arrests. Upon analyzing the 183 cases the Center For Safe and Responsible Internet Use found:

  • Only 8 incidents involved actual teen victims with whom the Internet was used to form a relationship.7
  • In 4 of these incidents, teens or parents reported the contact. The other 4 cases were discovered in an analysis of the computer files of a predator who had been arrested in a sting operation. Five of the cases had led to inappropriate sexual contact. The other situations were discovered prior to any actual contact.
  • There were 166 arrests as a result of sting activities where the predator contacted an undercover agent who was posing as a 12 - 14 year old, generally a girl.
  • The vast majority of the stings, 144, occurred in chat rooms. Eleven stings occurred through instant messaging.
  • There were only 12 reports of predators being deceptive about their age.

The entire report can be read here http://csriu.org/PDFs/papredator.pdf

No one denies the fact that their are bad people online that wish to do harm to children, but the reports suggest that it isn't the widespread threat that it has been believed to be in the past. A teenage internet user is much more susceptible to falling victim to cyber bullying, online identity theft or installing malware on their computer than being stalked by a sexual predator. However, should law enforcement, parents, or teenagers be any less vigilant about online predators because of these reports? That is the question...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Berkshire District Attorney's Office Launches Internet Safety Mentor Program

Felicia Vargas, manager of TechBoston and head of the BPS cybersafety campaign was invited out to Pittsfield to see a presentation by the Berkshire District Attorney's office about the Student Internet Safety Mentoring Program they have created in conjunction with the Massachusetts State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. She was very excited about what they are doing with students and internet safety, and she brought back some great sample materials. The Berkshires are using NetSmartz workshops and materials to train high school students on issues of cybersafety. Those high school students then teach students from kindergarten to grade two basic internet safety lessons including:
  • Never go on the internet unsupervised
  • How to make smart decisions to keep themselves safe online
  • Appropriate internet behavior
  • The possible dangers of the internet
The mentor training will be conducted by staff from the District Attorney's office and the Massachusetts State Police. We at the BPS also hope to implement similar programs with our high school students teaching younger children about cyber safety. In the past, we have trained high school students and they have created cyber safety education materials for elementary school students. We commend what the Berkshire District Attorney's office is doing and hope that the program is a great success. If you want to inquire more about their initiative, you can find information on their website.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Will 2009 be the Year of Internet Safety?

eSchool News released its top ten most significant ed-tech stories of 2008 and 60% of them have something to do with internet safety. Six out of the top ten stories that eSchool News listed were about cases involving cyberbullying, online computer security, malware and illegal file swapping. It is amazing considering the amount of educational technological advances in the past year. The continued rise of web 2.0 technologies for educational purposes, the introduction of a slew of low cost, "netbooks", the election of Barack Obama who has campaigned about 21st Century Learning skills and frequently airs addresses to the nation via YouTube. Could this be that the media and public tend to report more on tragedies and danger, or could it be that digital citizenship and safety go hand and hand with any type of web technologies that are used by people today. How will this trend play out for 2009? eSchool has also made internet safety one of their top five stories to watch for in 2009. Specifically, How will new federal and state regulations affect internet safety education in schools?

This, I believe, is the most intriguing question related to internet safety education in 2009. Last year Congress passed a law that requires schools receiving federal e-Rate funds to teach students about online safety. Will there be a specific curriculum that needs to be followed? How will this be measured? What grade levels are to be targeted? What types of materials will the department of education provide to school systems? Will there be training available to teachers and parents about the importance of internet safety?

These are all questions that I hope will be answered in 2009.