Mike Sherman

Internet Safety 101

As the Internet becomes ever more pervasive in our lives, the importance of using it wisely and safely grows. We must educate ourselves to its potential dangers. And that's especially true for our kids.

With that in mind, I was fortunate to attend a presentation at a local secondary school yesterday on the topic of Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship. The presenter, Darren Laur, is a veteran of the Victoria Police Department who, on the side, runs a company that educates students, parents, teachers, and others how to protect themselves online.

Darren began his presentation by introducing himself as a creeper. Unbeknownst to the students, Darren had tracked down a couple dozen of them on Facebook and befriended them under a made up identity. He then scraped a whole bunch of information about these kids that he never should have had access to. It was easy as pie, as most kids fail to protect even their most basic personal information from the prying eyes of complete strangers.  Darren's message to students: Reveal nothing in your profile that gives strangers even the slightest clue who you are and where you live. Go to Facebook's Privacy Settings page and lock your account down NOW (see here for help). If Darren could find out what he did in five minutes, so could the really creepy creepers out there. Don't let it happen - close your wall.

Darren also talked about the importance of keeping a squeaky clean digital dossier. What you post online is forever, he said, so be careful what you put up. That picture of you drunk and passed out at the party last Friday night? Guess what, it's now on Facebook. That summer job you were applying for is now out the window as your hoped-for new boss looked you up online and didn't like what he saw. Bottom line: Photos, videos, posts, and other online contributions create a lasting digital blueprint of you. Moments of bad judgement are recorded for all to see, for all time. Think before you post, as it may come back to haunt you if you don't.

A lost job is one thing, but it absolutely pales in comparison to the loss of a life. Darren shared with us thetragic stories of kids who committed suicide after being victimized by cyberbullies. He also told us aboutJessie Logan, an 18-year-old girl who took her life after sexually explicit photos of her were spread around the school. Like thousands of teens, Jessie had dipped her toes into the titillating but potentially dangerous world known as sexting. A photo she intended for her boyfriend's eyes only made the rounds at her school, and Jessie was devastated. Seeing no way out, Jessie hung herself in her closet. Jessie's mom found her and now has to live now with the grief of losing a daughter at far too young an age.

Kids are putting themselves in harm's way by not using the Internet wisely, by sharing too much, and by not asking for help when they need it. I watched the students in the audience as Darren hammered these points home, and they were riveted. Hopefuly most of them will heed Darren's advice and be safer in the future.

Darren expected to get home that night and have a bunch of messages waiting for him from kids in the audience. Some would have questions, some would have stories to share, and others would just say thanks. But one or two of these message would be a cry for help. They would be from victims previously suffering in silence, kids who, before his talk, didn't know where to turn. Darren feels an enormous responsibility to protect these kids from the dangers that lurk in the shadowy corners of the Internet. These dangers are real and Darren is here to help keep them safe.

I'm happy he is.

Mike Sherman

Ministry Of Education

                     © Personal Protection Systems Inc 2014