If you attend my presentations, read my articles or this blog, you know that I love computers, and the Internet and technology in general. But I have also cautioned my audience that social media is still in a lawless "Wild West" phase of development and can be used for evil.
How can we curtail the propensity of some (most often teenagers and young adults) to use the web for harmful purposes?
In September, the New York Times reported the tragic story of an 18 year old freshman at Rutgers University who killed himself after his roommate surreptitiously filmed him having sex with another male and then streamed the intimate encounter live on the Internet. The prosecutor’s office said that the victim's roommate, and another classmate, had each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image”. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.
The law does not yet exist to appropriately punish these offenders. And they are unlikely to serve much jail time (if any.)
Ironically, the news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology. It's better than nothing, but too little, too late.
The teaching of Internet etiquette and abuse prevention needs to take place in elementary school, probably 5th grade (when most kids get their first cell phone), middle school at the latest.
Why so soon? Because by middle school, tween girls bully others via text message, and by high school, misguided freshmen film themselves engaging in sexually explicit behavior and post the videos on the Internet. Every academic year, disturbing incidents happen and children are victimized. Even in the affluent, sophisticated Northeast suburb where I live.
The development of programs to teach the young is in its infancy. One notable effort is www.ThatsNotCool.com, where teens can find tools to “draw their own digital line” and a forum to discuss abuse and seek help.
In the absence of a relevant preventative school curriculum, parents must find opportunities to educate their children about the dangers of social media. Not sure how to do that? Check out cyberangels.org.
Right now, most schools, communities, and parents are sitting on their hands and doing nothing.
The time for action is now.