Students given tips on being cyber-smart

Safe Internet use begins with good communication.
That was the message two OPP officers delivered to students at St. Francis School here last week.
Det. S/Sgt. Arni Stinnissen and Sgt. Robyn MacEachern, from OPP headquarters in Orillia, were in town last Thursday urging kids and parents to be cyber-smart and keep the lines of communication open.
Many problems that arise from the Internet—from cyber-bullying to sexual predators—can be stopped in their tracks when kids tell their parents or teachers that they’re uncomfortable with a situation.
“Keep the communication going between your teachers, your parents, and your friends,” Det. S/Sgt. Stinnissen stressed to a group of Grade 7 and 8 students.
Both officers also gave the students tips on how to stay safe on the Internet.
“Be careful about putting personal information on the web,” Sgt. MacEachern warned. “Once it’s out there, anybody can do anything with it.”
Personal information includes what is referred to in cyber-speak as ASL (age, sex, location), as well as your name, the name of your school, and any sports teams you may be a member of.
The officers also strongly urged students not to put photos of themselves on the web as people can take the photo, manipulate it any way they like, and then distribute the new photo.
Likewise, predators can use photos to manipulate and fool people.
“It’s very easy for somebody to take a picture that isn’t them, send it to you, and tell you it is them,” Sgt. MacEachern warned. “You need to look critically at the information you see on the Internet.”
For example, a 40-year-old male could pose as a 14-year-old boy on a chat site to lure young people. Even someone you’ve been chatting with on-line for as long as a year, and feel like you know them, you don’t, she continued.
“They could be lying for that whole year,” she stressed.
It has happened in the past that a predator will lie to a potential victim for a year or more before asking to meet face to face, with the intent of harming the young person in some way.
“We strongly suggest you don’t even talk to strangers on the Internet,” Sgt. MacEachern added. “There’s absolutely no way to know if someone is telling the truth on the Internet.”
“We strongly suggest you only talk to people you actually physically know,” echoed Det. S/Sgt Stinnissen.
Another trend among youth is to add as many people as possible, including strangers, to their instant messaging programs. Some kids even have competitions to see who can accumulate the most “buddies” on their buddy list.
“Make sure the people on your buddy list are your friends. It’s not a popularity competition. This is about your safety and your security,” Sgt. MacEachern stressed.
Web cams also pose a real danger to youth, the officers noted.
About half the students at the presentation raised their hands when the officers asked if they had access to a web cam at home.
While it is a fun and useful tool for communicating with friends and family, it can be used for more nefarious purposes in the wrong hands.
“There’s a real danger when you’re using a web cam and you don’t know the person on the other side,” Sgt. MacEachern said.
The officers showed a short educational film about a case of a young teenager who used her web cam to speak to a stranger on the Internet who did not have one.
He could see her, but she could not see him during their conversations.
They began speaking every day, until one day he told the girl her web cam wasn’t working properly but that she could fix it by downloading a special program.
She did as he suggested, not knowing the program gave him the power to control her web cam from his computer.
Sgt. MacEachern noted most kids’ computers are in their bedroom, so the predator now had the ability to watch the girl in her room whenever he wanted—as long as her computer was on.
The predator then captured still photos from the camera and used them to blackmail the girl.
“You have opened a door to your home that you don’t even know is there,” she explained.
The officers urged the kids to put the lens cap on their web cams when they’re not using them, or unplugging them completely.
Because predators share their photos with other predators, those photos of the girl could circulate on the Internet for years.
“She’s not just victimized one time. She’s victimized for the rest of her life,” Sgt. MacEachern said.
Another serious problem among youth is cyber-bullying, which generally involves students sending threatening, harassing, or embarrassing e-mails.
“People act differently on-line because they don’t have to see the pain it causes,” Sgt. MacEachern noted.
“People say things they would never, ever say in real life. But if it’s a crime in real life, it’s a crime on the Internet,” she added.
For example, threats are illegal—whether uttered verbally on the playground or sent in an e-mail or instant message.
“Young people in the safety of their own homes are being bullied. The impacts are immense,” Sgt. MacEachern noted.
Students often won’t tell anyone because they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble, or they’ll lose their Internet privileges.
“If you are being bullied, tell someone,” Sgt. MacEachern said. “Don’t delete it. That may be evidence. Most importantly, don’t respond to it.”
Just as in bullying situations in real life, there often are bystanders present during cyber-bullying. It’s important for these people to take a stand against that kind of behaviour online.
“What the Internet will be like 10 years from now will depend on what people your age decide is appropriate,” Sgt. MacEachern said. “Tell your peers, ‘I don’t like you talking like that.’
“It’s up to you guys to set the standard,” she stressed.