Talking digital rep
You create your own digital reputation, and you will be judged according to it.
Merlyn Horton, executive director of SOLOS (Safe Online Outreach Society), visited Prince George last week to talk to people, particularly kids, about online safety. Horton was invited to share her presentation in honour of the 15th annual awareness week for Communities Against Sexual Exploitation of Youth (CASEY).
“What I’m talking about is the fact that everything they post online is public, and everything they post online is permanent,” Horton said.
Much of what she has to share covers the basics of protecting privacy, starting with not sharing user names or passwords.
“I’m also stressing the permanence of their digital reputation and the consequences it has in their future life,” she said. “I share stories, videos and visuals, so it moves along fairly quickly and keeps them entertained.”
One of the most famous stories she uses involves Schneider, a University of Pennsylvania student who posted a photo herself online, drinking out of a red cup, with a caption that read ‘drunken pirate’. The university wouldn’t grant her degree, saying she behaved in a way which was unbecoming to a teacher.
She sued,but the court upheld the decision, saying as a public employee her right to free speech wasn’t protected.
Horton added, when it comes to sexual exploitation, risk is not evenly distributed.
“Vulnerable kids at risk online are the same ones who are at risk off-line.”
Statistically, she said, the most important factor in lowering risk is teaching children how to conduct themselves online.
Not talking about sex with strangers online and not letting anyone take nude photos of them are important ways of staying safe.
“I really try to stress with them they have the power over where they go or what they do,” she said.
Another facet of online interaction includes bullying.
“Some drama gets escalated because it’s online,” she said. “Kids have had drama in their lives for a long time. We call it bullying.”
Horton said she has a Twitter feed where people have been discussing bullying lately, talking about how it’s a difficult concept for children.
“Some people are saying we have to deconstruct the idea of bullying because sometimes kids are the aggressor and sometimes the victim. So we have to start talking about conduct, good conduct, and how we expect kids to act online.”
Horton said she is a former youth outreach worker who was working with street kids. She said she got too old to be a youth worker, and has been a geek for a long time.
She studied adults with a sexual interest in children online in 2000.
Tying her computer proclivity with the job, she found a way to get the information she learned through various methods to the people who needed most to hear it.
“The biggest target for this information, the people who need to be safe, are the kids themselves,” she said,