Tuesday, November 27, 2007

i-SAFE From Harassment and Blackmail


Two examples of online social harassment and criminal activity came up in conversations I had last week.

First. The story of Megan Meier, a 13 girl who hanged herself Oct. 16, 2006, after becoming upset over messages she received from a boy she had met online. First he befriended her, and then six weeks later began attacking her personally with harassing messages, not only posted by him, but from other "friends" as well.

It has been in the news recently because it turned out the person who created the MySpace account was not a 16 year old boy named Josh at all, but in fact a neighbor and an adult. It was a woman posing as the boy to find out what Megan may have been saying about her daughter. When the harassing messages and the true identity of the sender were discovered, police notified the parents that although the actions were vile, they were not illegal.

Secondly. The story of Amy Polumbo. Amy Polumbo is Miss New Jersey and a 22-year old student at Wagner University. She was the subject of an attempted blackmail scheme in July of 2007 when someone threatened to send compromising photos from her Facebook account to the Miss America Pageant. The account was password protected and the photos were meant to be private, but instead ended up being mailed to the pageant board by a group calling itself "The Committee to Save Miss America."

Pretty negative stuff, but some recent positive action has resulted.

Last week, Dardenne Prairie, where Megan lived, became the first city to pass a measure outlawing Internet harassment. She wasn't from Florissant, Missouri, but the incident inspired the Florissant's city council to unanimously pass an internet harassment ordinance yesterday as well. It is now a misdemeanor.

In the second story, Amy went public with the photos. The speculation was far more scandalous than the photos, which could have been of any college age student horsing around with friends. No nudity, no underage drinking, just out with friends and partying some. (like I have said, be careful when drinking with friends carrying digital cameras).

As a result, Amy is now a national spokesperson for i-SAFE, a leader in Internet safety education. She is hoping to raise awareness about victimization of children on the Internet.

Their mission as self stated: "i-SAFE Inc. is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to educate and empower youth to safely and responsibly take control of their Internet experiences."

"i-SAFE provides age-appropriate K-12 curriculum to schools in all 50 states free of charge. The curriculum is a dynamic interactive program designed to educate and empower the student. Each lesson includes Activity Pages and Discussion for the class. The high school curriculum is a video Webcast hosted by teens on either VHS or DVD format. Some of the lessons taught by i-SAFE are:

* Cyber Citizenship
* Personal Safety
* Cyber Security
* Intellectual Property
* Cyber Bullying
* Predator Identification"

As parents and as citizens in the virtual world, we need to be aware of how rapidly technology is changing our children's social activities. Ethics, laws and behavior change when you go online. The feeling of anonymity and the disguise of an alias provide all the cover that some folks need to do things we wouldn't approve of or legally allow in the real world. Adjustments will come, but in the meantime, education and awareness from child to adult will have to do.

4 comments:

Nancy C. said...

Thanks for the info. I'm glad to see that laws are being put in place, especially since recent studies show how bullying has been moving from the playground to the internet. And while I'm disgusted that the woman who emotionally played with Megan's mind can't be legally charged, I'm heartened to know that, after national attention to the story, she's likely to become a total pariah in her town (sorry - very Old Testament when it comes to people who prey on children). p.s. I like the mix of serious and lighthearted issues discussed in your blog - keep up the good work.

Andrew Fry said...

Thanks, Nancy.

I was worried I might come across as preachy there at the end.

It is interesting to me that the traditional media did not out the neighbor as the person behind the postings, but that the blogging community did. When laws are not yet in place, sometimes, for better or for worse, the community takes matters into its own hands.

Warpaint1976 said...

I have seen some of these stories online and it is heartbreaking to hear that a child would take their own life because of the cruelty of someone else and horribly someones parent at that. It is good to hear that something is being done and some positive action can come from a tragic loss. I agree with what Nancy c. said, Your post has given me something think about and has also made me want to teach my son. how to be online and what to say and who to avoid. I cant be there all the time but I hope that for parents out there are involved with there kids lives on and offline.... there world is a dangerous place.... but I think with the right tools we can make it a little safer...

KenS said...

The Meier story is one I have been following closely and is ridiculously disgusting... shocking. Abhorrent. i-Safe has some great lessons but the bottom line is that the parents need to be more involved. 25 years ago when I went out to play (back when kids actually went outside), my parents wanted to know whom I was with, where I was going, when I would come home, etc… It seems that now, because kids sit attached to the PC and are inside, parents have made the subconscious decision that “well, they are right there, I can see my kids. They must be safe.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. I work for a company that makes monitoring software (PC Pandora) and we STRESS that parents need to educate themselves (our website and i-Safe are GREAT starts), then they MUST talk to their kids… finally, protect the PCs. It’s as simple as that. Block content, filter content, know what your kids are doing and whom they are talking to. Just like when kids would go out on Friday nights. You can do this without invading privacy too. Respect is a 2 way street. There is a difference in knowing what your kids are up to for their own good and “spying.”