County lawman gives lesson in cyber safety

What you say on the Internet can be used against you

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  • Detective Tom Laird of the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office High Tech Crime Unit delivered a powerful presentation about Internet safety and cyber-bullying. Photos by Laurie Gordon

  • "Who owns what you post online?" the detective asked; and answered, "The site does."

By Laurie Gordon

— “Be very aware of what you put out there on the Internet because you can't take it back.”

This was the strong message that Detective Tom Laird of the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office's High Tech Crime Unit delivered to the fourth, fifth and sixth graders at The Stillwater Township Elementary School on Tuesday morning in powerful assembly about Internet Safety for Students.

As part of The Week of Respect, the school brought in the detective for a lesson on this important subject.

When asked if they use Snapchat or Instagram, most of the students gathered in the cafeteria raised their hands. When asked if they use You Tube, everyone's hand went up.

“When you post something on one of these sites, who owns the information you posted?" Laird asked.

Most answered, “You do.”

“Nope," he correcte them. "That site does. That User Agreement with the small print that you sign when you sign up for one of those sites has it written right there but most people don't pay attention to it. The site owns what you post once you post it.”

He added, “You may think if you erase it that it goes away. Suppose you put something out there that was inappropriate or mean. It doesn't necessarily go away. What if someone saves it or screen shoots it?"

His words and examples, especially pointing out that a New Jersey law makes cyber-bullying a crime, really got the kids' attention and taught them some things about casually “posting” that they probably hadn't thought about before.

Laird spoke about choosing a password without your name or location in it and to watch what you wear in a photo you post.

“If you're wearing a sweatshirt that says Stillwater School on it, someone out there in cyberspace can pinpoint exactly where you live,” he said.

He gave a great example about safety. “When you were little in Kindergarten, do you remember teachers and parents telling you about Stranger Danger? Well now Stranger Danger doesn't necessarily come knocking on your door or drive up in a car. Stranger Danger can be anyone on the internet.”

“I cannot think of a more important topic for discussion for our students and parents than cyber bullying,” said Matt Robinson, superintendent of The Stillwater Township Elementary School. “Given today's climate, student ease of access to technology and social media, and recent tragic events close to home, educating the public is a key factor in working to eliminate what has become a critical problem for families and schools If we can reach even one student, or even get one family to begin to monitor their child's social media accounts, I will consider the event a great success.”

Technological advances are great, the detective said, but they've also spawned a new sort of bullying — cyber bullying.

Bullying is serious. Bullying is defined as repeated aggressive acts in which there is an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and victim. Victims of bullying can experience stress-related physical health issues such as headaches and stomachaches, as well as long-lasting mental health problems in the form of depression, anxiety and, in the most severe cases, suicide. laird said programs like this one are innovative prevention methods.

“Don't send mean messages or you can get in trouble,” Laird said, emphasizing the criminal aspect of cyber-bullying and other Internet improprieties. “Don't use hate speech and don't send inappropriate pictures.”

The detective gave an example of how his unit had responded in the past when some seventh grade girls thought it would be “funny” to set up a fake profile for a classmate. It wasn't funny, what they put out there was hateful and inappropriate and they got caught, he said.

“If you encounter something inappropriate on the Internet turn off the screen, use the back button, tell a trusted adult and/or report it to the website. On most websites, you can remain anonymous.”

Detective Laird said that though it's in the future, colleges can look at what you've posted on the Internet when you send in your application. He also addressed those who have great dreams of being a famous You Tube blogger.

“Do you know how many followers you need to have before You Tube pays you?” One kid in the audience guessed 1,000 and another 10,000. Detective Laird answered, “No, actually it's one million and then they pay you ten cents.”

Regarding what kids post, he said, “If you won't show it to your grandma, you probably shouldn't be sending it out there.”

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