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Massena students get internet safety message

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MASSENA - Today’s kids are comfortable with technology. Students, even those in elementary school, grew up surfing the Internet, reading the latest book on a Kindle and messaging friends on their smartphones. Although they are able to use that technology, they are often unaware of the dangers that await them in cyberspace.

Massena’s elementary schools are taking steps to change that.

Special Agent Timothy Losito from Homeland Security recently spoke to Madison and Jefferson elementary fifth and sixth graders about Internet safety. His talk covered topics that almost every student understands—social media, texting/sexting and cyberbullying.

Facebook, the largest social network, topped Mr. Losito’s list of Internet dangers. Facebook recently changed its policies making it harder for users to keep their personal information private. Students can unknowingly reveal their ages, their school, even their home address to online predators.

“You really need to know your friends. You should familiarize yourself with Facebook security and make sure you don’t post any personal information. There is no reason for it,” he said.

Texting and sexting was also a high priority for Mr. Losito. Sexting is the act of sending sexual messages or photos via smartphones or the Internet. Students often send explicit comments thinking they will only be seen by the intended recipient. A simple push of a button can resend that information to others. Before long, a private message can be halfway around the world.

Adding to the problem is that companies store those messages and photos. Just because users delete that information from their phones does not mean that information disappears.

“If you take a picture on your phone, it doesn’t go away. You can’t do anything on an electronic device that goes away. It does not go away!” he stressed.

One of the more recent problems on the Internet is the rise in cyberbullying—the use of texting, emails, Facebook posts, etc. to threaten, embarrass, or harass others. Bullying in the past was restricted to school grounds and school hours, but cyberbullying takes place anywhere and anytime.

“You can’t run from it – it’s 24 hours a day and that’s why it’s so serious,” said Mr. Losito.

Under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, schools must help students combat any form of bullying or harassment that interferes with a child’s education. Mr. Losito, however, explained that students can take steps to avoid or catch a cyberbully:

■ You don’t have to respond.

■ You can block or ban the bully.

■ Save the evidence!

■ Set up a new account.

■ Tell an adult that you trust about the situation.

■ You can report it.

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Losito gave students an Internet safety assignment called “Tracking Teresa.” Each group of students reviewed an imaginary girl’s behavior on the Internet. As they identified her top five mistakes, they began to see mistakes they might make.

For more practice, he invited students to try out the website www.NSTeens.org. The site features games and information about Internet safety, cyberbullying and predators. It also has materials for teachers.

Mr. Losito will present his presentation to Nightegale Elementary this coming Spring.

Student feedback

Mr. Losito’s candid and casual conversation gave the students plenty to think about.

“I think the Internet safety presentation was good for us to learn because now we know to watch out for creepers who pretend to be around your age, and are actually 40, 50, 60 or even older. We also learned to never send inappropriate pictures, because you might think you are just sending it to one person, but really a million people may see it,” said Madison sixth grader Jessalyn McGregor.

“The presentation was great and helpful, serious, and funny. Kids might think twice now before giving out private information online,” said Madison sixth grader Sam Ashley.

“I think the presentation was very informative and helpful on how to be safe online. I learned what you put on the Internet or send to someone never goes away. Everyone can always see what you put online- future employers, principals, teachers, and parents. Also, to be careful because if you are looking for a job, you need to be careful what you say online. Putting informational things about yourself on the Internet is dangerous for people who know different sites that will help them track you. I will use what I learned in many different ways. I’m going to never say or put inappropriate or mean stuff even though I never planned to anyway. The presentation was informative and helpful and hopefully many people will learn from it,” said Madison fifth grader Jillian Chapman.

“I thought the presentation was really cool, but a bit awkward at points. I learned to never, ever put any personal information online, and not to cyberbully anyone. I will use what I’ve learned to be safe by never telling or giving out information about yourself online, or by giving out any addresses. I have learned to never meet anyone that you have only met on the Internet,” said Madison fifth grader Brenna Strickland.

“I think the presentation really got the word out. I learned that you should never give out personal information to strangers or anyone you don’t know off line. I also learned to think before you post or write online because what you post really never goes away. I think we should have this every year,” said Jefferson grader Seth Denney.

“I think the Internet is a good way to communicate with your friends and family. The presentation informed how to do this safely. You really have to be careful of what you put online, like personal information including your address. The Internet can be great if used the right way,” said Jefferson fifth grader McKenzie Clough.

“The Internet safety presentation was good. Now, after the presentation, I’m going to change all my online account settings, like Facebook , so no creepers can see my information. I liked it and am never going to give my information to anybody that I don’t know. I’m going to listen to what they say about everything,” said Jefferson grader Brayden Rushlow.

“I’ve learned two very important things today about Internet safety that I will never forget. Number one is to make sure you know who you’re talking to because there are a lot of creeps out there. Number two is to think before you type because you can never delete anything you put on the Internet,” said Jefferson sixth grader Tyler Mcdonald.

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