School program tackles online safety
Public school students learn to have Internet integrity
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 06:00 am
A lot of people don’t have common sense on the Internet, says Katie Kitschke.
Take the case of a Burlington, Ont. youth who recently posted a picture of himself on Facebook. He was holding a high-powered rifle and, in the caption, threatened to kill a specific person.
“How smart is that?” Kitschke asks.
The youth was soon arrested.
Kitschke is a public educator with the Saffron Centre, a sexual abuse support centre in Sherwood Park that has recently seen a big uptick in people who have been victimized online. She was one of the speakers Thursday at Lorne Akins Junior High, where about 50 Grade 8 students from the St. Albert Public School District gathered to learn about online ethics and security as part of the district’s third annual Internet Integrity Day.
Most of the time there’s no one watching over you while you use the Internet, Kitschke told the students. That’s why we have to teach students to have integrity – the ability to do the right thing even when no one’s watching.
The Internet is so much a part of student life that many students don’t think about the implications of what they do online, says Allyson Fong, a school councillor at Lorne Akins and one of the organizers of the event.
About 90 per cent of students have online-capable phones, Fong says, so they’re online most of the time without supervision. There are no guards on the Internet, so the district felt it important to teach students to guard themselves.
Students attending Internet Integrity Day learned about the risks of releasing personal information online and the legal consequences of bullying. These students will now return to their schools to teach their peers about online safety.
“There are so many predators that use the Internet to lure their victims,” Kitschke says.
Many victims get in trouble due to poor choices, such as posting nude pictures (“nudies”) of themselves online.
“I’ve been involved in schools where it’s happening in Grade 5. It’s a huge, huge issue.”
A child who takes a picture of herself naked could be charged with possession child pornography, as well as dissemination of it if it’s forwarded to others, says RCMP Const. Janice Schoepp, who spoke to the students.
And there’s no guarantee that the person you sent it to won’t pass it on to others, she continues.
“Once you send something, it’s completely out of your control,” she said.
Kitschke attributed the spread of nudies to the glorification of sex in society.
“(The students) are looking at these pictures (in the media) and thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?’”
But as employers now regularly Google search their hires, a compromising picture taken today could cost you a job tomorrow.
“What if you post an embarrassing picture of somebody and that person commits suicide?” she asks the students.
That’s what happened with Amanda Todd, she says, referring to a recent well-known case of a youth who was victimized by online bullies.
Todd reached out for help online but did not receive it, Kitschke says.
“If you see somebody posting a video like she did asking for help, be there for them.”
Hailey Coulson and Kaitlyn Jenson of W.D. Cuts say they regularly see students make questionable posts online.
“We get messages saying, ‘Oh, you should come over to the park, I got a bag of weed,’” Jenson says.
Websites such as Tumblr (an online blogging site) also make it easy to harass people anonymously.
Students who feel reluctant to report harassment to teachers can instead report it to site administrators or friends, Jenson says.
“Don’t put anything up online that you wouldn’t go up to a random stranger and tell.”
Parents also have to lay out their expectations for online behaviour when their kids get new technology, Kitschke says, and check their phones and computers.
“I’m going to be on Facebook because my kids are on Facebook.”