Responsible use of the internet is the universal message South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is trying to get across to children, adolescents, and adults. Wilson is joining with representatives from Facebook for a series of internet safety forums around the state in an effort to educate young people on the responsible use of the internet. Wilson says in the forums he likes to use a straight-forward approach.
“The internet is like a chainsaw. In the hands of someone that understands its purpose, its power, and what it can do for you, it’s a useful tool. But in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand its power, it can become a deadly or extremely dangerous weapon and you can hurt yourself.”
Wilson says it is important to let young people know that sharing their personal information can expose them to identity theft and sexual predators. He also adds it’s important to drive the point home that the internet and text messaging is not to be used to injure a person emotionally, damage their reputations, or threaten them.
“Cyber-bulling has become a real prominent reality to a lot of these students, and a lot of things people are putting on the internet are very harmful and hurtful. We are trying to education students and school administrators about the cyber-bulling problem and how we combat it and prevent it.”
Wilson says young people have to be made aware that information they share on the internet about themselves or others may not only be harmful, but can also be illegal. He cited the example of sexting.
“Just a couple of year ago the idea of texting was a novelty; it was brand new to us. Now we have sexting,” he told South Carolina Radio Network, “We’ve got kids out there that are taking picture of themselves in sexually provocative poses and posting them on the internet or sending them to friends. They don’t realize that they are engaging in criminal activity. Even though it is consensual among themselves, they are committing a crime.”
That’s because “sexting” technically falls under child pornography laws if those involved are under age 18, although those laws are rarely enforced. An effort to make sexting a seperate offense that would be punished by fines, rather than jail time, failed in the General Assembly last year.
Wilson says technology is constantly evolving, especially in the ways we communicate with each other, and the law has to evolve with it.
Wilson says he wants to make sure that young people who are enthusiastic about sharing their emotions, thoughts, and images on the internet think before they hit the “post” or “send” button.
“If you wouldn’t conduct that activity in front of a thousand people, if you wouldn’t share that photo with a thousand people, and if you wouldn’t say what you’re saying in front of a thousand people then don’t put it on the internet,” he said. “That stuff can get out. And once it’s out you can never take it back.”
Wilson says Facebook representatives at the forums are sharing information that has not only been eye-opening for young people, but for adults as well. “Facebook is approaching it from a technical sense: how to use the privacy settings, how to use the security settings.”
Wilson adds that adults attending the forums are learning new things as well. “I have teachers coming up to me after a presentation saying “wow!” I did not know that, this is a great way to protect our children.”
Wilson led forums at three schools in Sumter Thursday. He will also conduct forums at two charter schools in Greenville Friday afternoon. Wilson says any school, church, or community group may call the State Attorney General’s office if they are interested in scheduling a forum.