By MARY RAINWATER
Scores of fourth-grade hands shot up around the Story Intermediate School cafeteria as cyber safety expert Matt Tibbetts of TBG Solutions posed questions to his young audience like, “How many here have a Facebook? What about Twitter? Or Instagram?”
Tibbetts had come as part of Palestine Independent School District's efforts to educate students on the importance of being careful, courteous and safe online. Since students live in a “digital world,” according to Principal Amanda Jackson, it is crucial for them to learn how to wield the powers of the internet properly.
“So we're just trying to give them the best tools for their benefit,” Jackson said. “It's about safety.”
The “BeSafe in CyberSpace” talk was heard Friday by fourth, fifth and sixth-grade students and covered the risks of cyberbullying and posting personal information online. Through colorful stories and multimedia displays, Tibbetts gave students tips on how to guard themselves across social networks and be, pardon the pun, smart on smart phones.
Tibbetts compared navigating the realm of CyberSpace to driving through icy conditions, where one must be careful to avoid slipping.
He cautioned against sharing personal information such as date of birth, hometown, home address and phone number, and then asked students if they thought networks like Facebook “are free.”
“You are their inventory. You are what they sell,” Tibbetts said. “To mass marketers, advertisers, political parties, (etc.) They're selling it as fast as they can.”
He further explained that posting updates such as “House to myself, going on vacation, not home right now, heading to...” are not a good idea, as it tells everyone who needs – and doesn't need – to know your whereabouts. He said students should “turn off location services” on social networking and phone applications, as this can tell “the exact location within three feet” of where, say, that selfie was snapped.
Giggles and gasps escaped audibly as Tibbetts flashed a picture on a projector screen of a restroom with a window in it, denoting a “small degree of privacy.”
“That's kind of how it is when you're using Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat. You can close the door on your privacy settings, but somebody can always look through a window,” Tibbetts said. “So if you power up your cellphone and put anything on it that you would be embarrassed showing somebody else – maybe you don't want your grandma to see it – then you're using your cell phone irresponsibly and somebody's going to see it at some point.”
Even so-called “protected” applications like Snapchat are not so, Tibbetts said, since viewers can “screenshot” photos to pull up at a later time, along with the underlying fact that photos are all saved to the application's server.
Consequences from posting inappropriate photos or information can come back like a boomerang, Tibbetts explained. Many a students have lost jobs, scholarships and life opportunities by sharing information that they later came to regret.
“To share or not to share, that is the question,” Tibbetts said. “Would you want it on a billboard for everybody to see? Whatever you put online is permanent. Google never forgets.”
When it comes to cyberbullying, in addition to hurtful, it's illegal. To bring it home, Tibbetts asked students if they wanted to go to court with their parents for getting caught in an activity such as cyberbullying.
“How many of you can think of 10,000 better ways to spend your time than in court with your parents? I know I can think of 10,000,” he said.
Tibbetts then asked students why they thought kids would take to bullying in the first place.
“They want to be mean!” one boy yelled.
“They're depressed,” another echoed.
Tibbets nodded and explained to students that only hurting people hurt people, and that students should handle the situation carefully. If they should become a victim of bullying, the best thing to do is to ignore it – and report it.
“Save the evidence and report it,” Tibbetts said – to the principal, for instance.
Wrapping up, Tibbetts told students that bullying often would stop if one person took a stand against it.
He encouraged students to “be that person for somebody else” – where if they see another child being bullied, they don't remain a bystander, or worse, join in (by filming a vicious act or spreading hurtful information, for instance) but by taking a stand for what is right.
Following suit in awareness efforts, Palestine ISD staff will participate in a similar “Social Media Awareness” training on Monday. The staff development starts at 8:30 a.m. in the new high school auditorium and will cover a range of topics dealing with proper use of social media and technology.