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.
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