Times Colonist

Victoria cop teaches 'friends' about perils of social network


BY KATIE DEROSA, TIMESCOLONIST.COMJUNE 4, 2011




Victoria police Staff Sgt. Darren Laur said he's always surprised at who adds him as a Facebook friend. His more than 2,000 "friends," mostly teens, think he's a 15-year-old girl they have never met, not a 46-year-old cop looking to make an example out of them.

Laur said he's trying to teach kids that by opening up their social networking sites to strangers, they're potentially giving away personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, emails and friends' names, which could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

"We need to teach our kids about good digital citizenship," said Laur, who was one of the dozens of speakers at the Social Media Camp conference Friday, which continues today at Victoria Conference Centre.

"It's about physical safety when we're online, freedom from child predators and pedophiles," he said. "It's about emotional safety, freedom from harassment and cyber-bullying."

Laur and his wife, Beth, run the company Personal Protection Systems and have given presentations on Internet safety to thousands of high school and junior high school students across Vancouver Island.

Before he presents at a school, Laur will see how many of the students will accept his Facebook alias as a friend. He's had teenage boys ask him out on dates. When he tells the students they actually added him, "you can hear a pin drop."

"I'm not one of those people who thinks [the Internet] is the devil and that it's polluting the minds of our youth," he said. But he said parents and teens need to understand how criminals and child predators use the Internet to exploit people.

Laur said with apps like Facebook Places, where people can "check in" at a location and broadcast it to their friends, and the practice of uploading to the Internet cellphone photos, which have a geotag that includes your location within 10 metres, it's not inconceivable that someone can know where you are at each moment of the day.

Laur said smartphones have made it more difficult for parents to monitor what kids are doing online. There is software that allows parents to track Internet activity, but Laur said the best approach is for parents to educate their children first.

Laur said there has been a dramatic rise in "sexting" — texting sexually explicit messages or photos, often to strangers. It has become a bigger problem than cyber-bullying, he said.

Cyber-bullying played a role in the brutal rape and murder of 18-year-old Kimberly Proctor last year. Her killers, Cameron Moffat and Kruse Wellwood, tormented her online months before they planned the killing, which they also did over the Internet.

Laur pointed to the case as an example of how police can piece together a criminal investigation using a person's online activity.

The biggest misconception teens have about Facebook? "That it's private," he said. "They have to understand their digital footprint will follow them around for the rest of their lives."

kderosa@timescolonist.com




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