More and more information found on the Internet is being used to verify the character of scholarship or job applicants, deny insurance claims, or lead children as young as seven to live pornography sites, says social media expert Jesse Miller.
Speaking before two dozen parents and youths at Columneetza Secondary School in Williams Lake Tuesday evening, Miller described how he has worked for eight American universities this year to identify character and ethics of scholarship applicants by searching them on the Internet, how he’s worked with the RCMP to help them with cases and been called into schools where students are involved in illegal activity because of the information they are sharing via social media.
Last year Miller spoke to 175,000 students in B.C. schools and is convinced society needs to take the Internet back.
“People haven’t changed that much, but the Internet has amplified human behaviour that we’ve chosen to ignore,” Miller says, adding a student known as a motivator letting the world know he’s lazy or disgruntled through his Facebook or Twitter feeds will come back to haunt him.
Insurance companies could cancel a theft claim if it turned out a kid posted that he was “bored in Maui on a family holiday,” hence letting the world know the family home is empty.
Or, if someone who is texting on his/her phone while driving ends ups in a collision, ICBC will be able to trace the phone activity.
Most alarming are the growing number of incidents where children are seeing or are involved with pornography via social media.
Miller visits many schools where children are being disciplined for issues around “sexting,” where they’re saying explicit things in text messages and are also producing associated photos of themselves.
More and more schools are dealing with these issues and are having to involve the police because, under the Criminal Code, it’s considered child pornography if children under 18 are involved.
Recently Miller was called to a school where the boys in Grade 8 were encouraged by the girls in Grade 8 to take pictures of their private parts. They got more points if they were exposing themselves in class.
“Fifty-four kids got letters home saying this is what your kid’s doing,” Miller said Tuesday at the forum that was sponsored by the parents’ advisory council and the RCMP. “Most parents didn’t show up to the parent advisory meeting because it wasn’t ‘my kid.’ How do we get our kids to pay attention? After they are in handcuffs?”
Miller checks out Twitter and Facebook accounts before he goes into a high school to give a presentation so he can give local examples.
Before arriving in Williams Lake he learned that local youths were complaining about “Cariboo” problems, “first-world” problems such as not knowing what shoes to wear, or the fact the RCMP broke up a bush party on the weekend.
Suggesting that most kids have already seen inappropriate things on the Internet, Miller encourages parents to make their children feel comfortable in telling them so that parents can report those sites.
“There are so many websites out there that parents should be afraid of. You just don’t know about them yet. Tomorrow I’m going to mention a couple of websites that you don’t know about and your kids are going to laugh because they’ve seen these things and know that these websites exist.”
More and more content is being shared through “friendship,” especially on Facebook.
Showing how easy it is to connect by typing in Williams Lake and the name of one of the high schools, he shows how suddenly he accesses hundreds of people in Williams Lake.
He also demonstrates how photographs taken on Iphones show the location where the photograph was taken.
“Go to the happy little sunflower where your pictures are. At the bottom of the screen it will say albums and places. Click places and the red dots that appear will broadcast where you were when you took the photo. The metadata includes the longitude and latitude of where you were standing,” Miller explains, adding it also applies to the Ipod, Ipad, Blackberry and Android phones. “More and more we need people aware of what our phones do.”
Ninety-five per cent of Canadian schools are connected to the Internet, kids are connected at home, and if they aren’t they will use it at libraries or friends’ homes.
“I would like to see Facebook and Twitter in the schools as tools to learn because these devices are amazing, but you can’t do that when every single kid out there is thinking they have to capture something right now.”
Parents are encouraged to get involved with why their kids like what they like on the Internet.
“If they’re playing Angry Birds find out why? It could be the physics,” Miller says.
He also says credit cards are better to use to purchase items on the Internet, rather than gift cards, because parents can see what their kids are buying.
A credit-card bill might be better than a lawyer’s bill down the road, he adds.
“More and more parents need to be involved when kids are buying things on the Internet. And if they are free there could be stipulations like going on a webcam for 20 minutes — some kids do that.”
To keep kids safe he advocates not giving out excessive personal information online, to refrain from posting anything that would embarrass someone later, and not to believe everything seen on the Internet.
More tools can be found at www.mediatedreality.com, www.cybertip.ca, www.deal.org, www.commonsense.org and www.bc.rcmp.ca.