Online safety: Don’t shame people into compliance

Abigail Carlin, Columnist

Recently, I attended a presentation regarding online safety for teens and tweens. 

The presentation was led by a cop who has dedicated most of his career to finding and arresting online predators. In his own career, he has arrested more than 300 people alone for felonies committed online. 

Attending this talk was interesting, especially given the fact that a former Eastern student was recently arrested in Florida for being an online predator; however, I found that much of the presentation relied on shaming students into compliance with “proper online behavior,” and I believe that tactic is wrong and extremely problematic. 

One of the pillars of online safety is abiding by the 3 P’s. 

The students who attended this presentation were told to reflect on their message or picture and consider, “what would happen if my parent, priest, or principal saw this?” and “would they be disappointed in me?” 

The key word is “disappointed,” as that is extremely subjective. 

In my experience, students seem drawn to potentially compromising situations online as a form of escape from their daily life. 

For so many, communicating with people on Tumblr, Twitter and forums online allows students to broaden their horizons. 

I understand that, given one’s age and the nature of said communication, can breed dangerous situations, but is using the rule of disproval really the most effective method of keeping kids safe online?

Nearly by definition, an online predator preys on students who feel vulnerable. 

Unfortunately, children are “sextorted,” meaning that compromising conversations, photos, or videos may be used as blackmail to pressure an individual into compliance. 

This compliance allows the predator to obtain more videos or photos, as well as dominate a child’s sense of safety and security. 

The shame and fear of those secret videos and photos going public are the very things keeping children, tweens, and young adults hostage in predatory situations. 

It is my opinion that we have stuck young people between a rock and a hard place. 

If they feel a sense of shame from both their parents and the bad guys, trust becomes an arbitrary concept.

Growing up involves a lot of decisions, many of which will be bad decisions. 

As the frontal cortex of a young adult begins to mature, they become more capable of acting logically and carefully. 

It is impossible to expect a 12-year-old to handle a situation in the same way as their 40-year-old parent, as that is the whole point of that presentation. 

The question to consider is: How do we instill a sense of trust amongst young people and the adults they can trust? In what ways can we protect our children while preserving their reasonable right to freedom and experimentation? 

The internet can be an awesome place for young people to expand their horizons, access incredible educational resources and connect with communities that may not have any representation in their school or home town. 

Online safety is a priority, yes, but in order for young people to feel supported when they come forward in a compromising situation, they deserve to feel respected and protected by those on their side of the screen.

Abigail Carlin is a senior English Language Arts major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].