The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 6, 2013

Students, parents made aware of sexting problem

By Rebecca Croomes

— Wednesday, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange took the issue of “sexting” and online privacy to an audience of students and parents at Spain Park High School in Hoover with the intent of bringing awareness to digital problems that are just as dangerous as physical ones.

“Just as we must address bullying, harmful content and other dangers in our schools and in our neighborhoods, we also must address them online,” Strange said in a press release.

An incident in Anniston involving the distribution of pictures of a naked teen came to light last month as local schools and Alabama authorities were preparing to send students back to class.

The Anniston Star reported, Aug. 13, that the woman was 15 when she took the photos and sent them to her now ex-boyfriend, whom she believes posted the images to Facebook on Aug. 6 of this year, after they broke up. According to the report, Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the photos were removed the next day, and his department was investigating the case.

Amerson also told the paper he thought pornographic images distributed among teens via social media and text messaging, also known as sexting, was a growing problem.

He isn’t alone.

“Unfortunately, sexting is a problem across the country,” said Capt. Trevor Harris of Athens Police Department. “Every town deals with a few cases of that… we work them every now and again.”

Currently, APD doesn’t have a sexting case open.

Strange co-hosted the event with Brooke Oberwetter of the Facebook Public Policy Office. She advised attendees on how to customize privacy settings and content filters on the popular social media site.

“At Facebook, we think of safety as an ongoing conversation between teachers, students, parents, non-profit groups, government and the private sector,” Oberwetter said in Strange’s press release.

In response to the Anniston event, Callie Harris with Parental Intelligence company uKnowKids, and Internet safety expert Tim Woda, whose son was stalked by a predator he encountered online, compiled a list of tips for parents to consider when their kids log on.

The list is as follows:

• Make sure you recognize all numbers on the phone bill. Kids text all the time nowadays, so much so that parents do not always see the faces of their child’s friends.  It is important to ask your child about any number that you don’t recognize.

• If kids close their phones or computers around you, don’t be naive. Make sure children use phones and computers in public areas of the home only.

• Communicate house rules. Before your child is allowed a phone, he or she should be well aware of any pre-established house rules. Discuss your expectations for mobile behavior and the consequences for failing to meet those expectations, but also discuss the potential legal and social repercussions of sending inappropriate pictures or spreading them online, whether they are of your child or not.

• Understand the technology that your child is using. Be familiar with all the functions of the technology devices your child is using on their phones, including social network sites, gaming systems, chat sites, etc. Some of these could have messaging and photo-sharing options that you might not even know existed.

• Be a vigilant parent. Know whom your child is talking to and who is trying to talk to them. The more information you have about their interactions on their phone, the better equipped you will be to interfere if anything dangerous should happen. Parental Intelligence systems such as uKnowKids are a great way to help out with this task if you think it is too overwhelming.