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 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

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...