Workshop to help protect children using Internet
By Lou Fancher
With children able to communicate on the Internet with anyone, anywhere in the world, it's tough to be a cyber gatekeeper.
Parents have always worried, and kids have tested boundaries, but the stakes are higher -- and the trail trickier to follow -- on social media.
A recent case in Lamorinda involved a Dropbox account with more than 650 nude or seminude photos of teenage girls. The website was the subject of an opinion piece written by Sofia Ruiz, a student at Miramonte High School, and tragically illustrated the point: unregulated social media is dangerous, sometimes illegal.
Recognizing the need to catch kids and their parents before a problem occurs, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and her staff recently held a "Cyber Safety: Protecting our Children on the Internet" workshop at Foothill Middle School.
Joining Bonilla were Juan Salazar, associate manager of state political outreach at Facebook; Walnut Creek police Officer Drew Olson, a campus resource officer at Las Lomas High School; and Moraga police Sgt. Brian South.
The Moraga police were instrumental in removing the Dropbox site, and Smith said the case made it obvious that education is needed.
"Part of what came out of the case is that for parents, it's important to be proactive," Smith said. "Don't think you've controlled it if you haven't given them a phone."
For kids, Smith said knowing that a photo sent out on the Internet is never truly gone is key.
"We can write search warrants, but bad people with bad motives can acquire photos. It's misplaced trust (in Internet safety features). The way you can avoid trouble is by not sharing it at all," he said.
Working on campus in a new program at Walnut Creek schools, Olson said he's up to speed on how kids use Facebook, but sees more students turning to Snapchat, Yik Yak, and other social media platforms that offer more anonymity than Facebook.
"The activity that scares me is the sexting," Olson said. "We see it in high schools and middle schools. Kids ages 12-17 are sending inappropriate pictures."
Uploading nude photos of people under 18 is a crime and violates child pornography laws. Olson said context determines the resulting charges. In the case of the Lamorinda images, South said the photos were sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If any of the photos involve missing or exploited girls, the case will return to the local Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Bonilla said that as a former teacher at Concord High School, she learned that Facebook could "be wild" and hurt students emotionally.
"It distracts them from learning, there's FOMO (fear of missing out), bullying. My three grandchildren are so far ahead on their connective devices, I know middle school is the perfect age to learn about this," she said.
Facebook does't allow children under 13 to open accounts, but regardless, Salazar said parents should be diligent and knowledgeable.
"If you allow your child to go on a digital platform, you ought to know how it works," he said.
Even before exploring the policies, privacy and help tools of a platform, Salazar urged parents to have old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations with their kids.
"Kids need to be told that safety isn't just a physical thing; it's an online thing. You wouldn't talk to a stranger: you shouldn't "friend" everyone. You should teach them social media is a privilege and depends on a maturity level," he said.
Salazar said 890 million people log on to Facebook daily and up to 1.4 billion account holders are active each month. He sped through a rapid tutorial highlighting "real name culture," "community standards" (used to assess hate speech, nudity, pornography, bullying and other objectionable activity), and tools developed to respond to specific threats.
Most of the privacy tools and safety settings are controlled by the user, like untagging a photo or blocking, but Facebook engineers have also designed internal controls to flag, edit and remove offensive posts.
Salazar's final message: know your kid, stay involved, get on social media yourself, do a weekly review, and make sure you and your children understand the laws regarding Internet activity.