Friday, December 11, 2009

Cyber Safety Expert Visits Marshwood Middle School: An 8th Grader’s Perspective

By Suzannah Blass
& Rosie Alleva
Marshwood Middle School

Cyberbullying, predators, sexting, and social networking - do you really know what your kids are being exposed to on the web? Many parents don’t, but Jayne A. Hitchcock does, and it’s her job to help educate parents, kids, and teachers about these topics. She is the president of Working to Halt Online Abuse, WHO@. Jayne travels to different schools, businesses, and other organizations to train and inform the public about these significant issues. She has appeared on popular T.V. programs such as Primetime Thursday with Diane Sawyer, CNN, and Good Morning America, as well as in Time Magazine. She has also written a book related to her work entitled Net Crimes and Misdemeanors. On Nov. 19, Jayne visited our school to inform us about these types of issues.
Some kids may think that they know everything there is to know about the Internet, but at the assembly we, the students of Marshwood, realized this wasn’t true at all. Few of us actually realized how easy it is for people we don’t know to look us up online and how susceptible to predators we are. The point of this assembly was in no way to discourage kids from using social networking sites but rather to simply warn us of what could happen and how to be safe while using them.
Sexting, a term used to describe sending explicit photos to one another through texts or computers, may seem like no big deal. But it is. If the picture is of someone under age, both the sender and people who look at the picture can be charged with child pornography. When pictures are posted on the web, the person posting them might not realize that the picture they posted would stay on the web forever, that it would travel so fast, or that they could be fired in the future because of it! It’s not only pictures, though. When you type a status or post a comment on Facebook, or really anything else online, it will stay there forever and is open to the whole Internet. Friends, family, supervisors, co-workers, and even people you don’t know could see these things. As we learned in the assembly, you should never put anything onto the Internet that you will later regret.
Everything in the assembly just seemed like fact after fact, real life problems that were happening to kids just like us, but still, they weren’t us. Jayne said something that caught everyone’s ear, teachers and kids alike. She revealed to us that she had made an alter ego on Facebook. Jayne “friend requested” 60 MMS honor students. Of those 60, 58 kids had accepted and became her friend (even though they had no knowledge of who she was). When she said this instantly murmurs spread throughout the gym as people racked their brains to remember if they had accepted anyone they didn’t really know. Many people were probably regretting it now. She, as her alter ego, then had easy access to phone numbers, emails, pictures, videos, and even addresses. Yes, it is just that simple. This was a major eye opener. These weren’t only facts; they were statistics about us. They actually made everything seem all the more real. Things went from, “That could never be me!” to “This is real and I should be more cautious.”
The assembly ended shortly after, when the students and teachers were dismissed out of the gym to carry on the school day. Even though this may have been the end of the assembly, it wasn’t the end of predators on the web or sexting. Many of the ideas, facts, and statistics that Jayne had told us were scary, but they were all true. They affected many of us and got us thinking for the rest of the day. Many kids were trying to figure out who Jayne’s alter ego was, and were scared that they may have befriended her. Some said that when they got home they would change their profile settings to make themselves safer, some said they would check to make sure their friends were truly their friends, and some said that they would put less information in their profiles. The assembly showed all of us how important it is to go out of our way and make sure we are safe. In addition, it warned us never to sext. Overall, even if some kids shrugged off what was told to us during this assembly, many didn’t and thanks to this assembly those kids will now be safer.
Photo caption: L-R, Rosie Alleva, Jayne Hitchcock, and Suzannah Blass after a recent seminar on cyber safety at Marshwood Middle School. (Courtesy photo)