Contrary to popular belief, even among Internet-savvy teens, privacy settings don’t guarantee privacy on online social network sites. And although something deleted from the Internet may appear to be gone, it still exists somewhere in a record.
That news, delivered by Internet safety and technology expert Katelyn LeClerc Greer, brought murmurs of surprise from many students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School last week. Ms. Greer offered tips about rapidly changing cyber technology and the pitfalls of online communication, in a school-wide assembly program at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on January 19.
The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force (YTF) sponsored Ms. Greer’s visit to the Island. In addition to her presentation to high school students on Wednesday morning, she followed up with a second program for middle school students, who were bused to the PAC for the event.
That night, Ms. Greer addressed parents and other interested community members at the YMCA on the topics of new technology and dangers, cyber-bullying laws and legislation, and other topics related to the Internet and its safe use.
During her high school presentation, Ms. Greer asked students how many thought privacy settings on Facebook were a safeguard against unwanted visitors to their pages. More than half the audience raised their hands.
Other tips that made her audience buzz:
*75 percent of colleges use social networking searches to learn more about prospective students.
* Privacy settings on online social networking sites are not foolproof, so “think before you post.”
* Websites are like tattoos; once removed, there is always a trace left behind. The same is true of comments, photos or videos posted online. They may be deleted, but somewhere a record remains.
*Victims of cyber-bullying may not reveal how troubled they are. Their friends should be vigilant and report cyber-bullying incidents.
*Nude or semi-nude photos of someone under the age of 18 sent and received by cell phone or computer are considered distribution and possession of child pornography. Both are a Federal offense and felony.
As the former Internet safety program coordinator for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, Ms. Greer created age-appropriate programs for kindergarteners to high school students, and an adults-only version for parents and educators in 2005. The programs offered information about potential online dangers and tips on taking a proactive approach to avoid them.
In March 2006, The Times published articles about Island teens and their participation on the website MySpace.com, which raised interest in the community about the subject of Internet safety.
In response, The Times, in conjunction with school officials, sponsored four days of presentations by Ms. Greer in Island schools and a community forum the following September. A year later The Times, Comcast, and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools sponsored her return to speak to parents and Island middle school students. By that time Ms. Greer had left the Attorney General’s office to work as an intelligence analyst for the Massachusetts State Police, while still doing the Internet safety presentations on her own.
In an interview with The Times last week, Ms. Greer talked about what has changed since she gave her first Island presentations almost five years ago.
“Then, the focus was on the Internet and Internet safety, and now, it’s Internet safety and technology and information; it’s iPads and iPods; it’s not just kids sitting down at a computer anymore,” Ms. Greer said.
Cyber-bullying and sexting, sending sexually explicit messages or photos primarily between cell phones, are currently the two hottest topics.
MySpace, the springboard for her first visit to the Island, has since been surpassed by Facebook, its relatively unknown rival at the time. Ms. Greer recalled that she told Island parents not to be afraid of Facebook and to try it themselves. “And now, parents are on it constantly,” she said. Enough so that she finds she has to talk about appropriate Facebook behavior not only with children but also their parents.
“I say to them, I’m really glad you’re using this, but guess what – everyone can see your stuff, including your kids and your kids’ friends and your kids’ friends’ parents, so let’s not put up photos of ourselves dancing up on the bar,” Ms. Greer said. “That’s not cute. You don’t want to see your kids doing that, and they don’t want to see you doing that.”
YTF executive director Theresa Manning said many Island parents remember Ms. Greer and suggested her as a great resource on Internet safety. As a result, Ms. Manning used some funds left over from a grant last year to book Ms. Greer months in advance for the YTF’s second parent lecture series this year.
Ms. Greer and her new husband live in Vermont, where she runs her home-based business, KL Greer Consulting. Over the past five years she has traveled the country to give presentations to more than 300 organizations, schools and conferences. Ms. Greer also serves as the Director of Internet Safety and Content for WhatsWhat.me, a safe and secure kids-only online social networking site for 7 to 13 year olds.