Three separate technology-related news items this week ought to raise the level of concern parents have as their kids intersect with the world as it exists in 2008:
First, there was the MySpace "bug" which I posted about earlier in the week - the bug was discovered and subsequently fixed that allowed tech-saavy predators to access "private" MySpace profiles, including the pictures found on these profiles. If you haven't done so already, by all means, check out the post here.
Second, a news item from Orange County, California:
Photos of Unsuspecting High School Water Polo Players Posted on Gay Porn Websites.
The Orange County Register says it found dozens of photographs of high school athletes on five "gay-oriented" pornographic websites. "On these sites, images of local high school athletes, some as young as 14, according to parents, are juxtaposed next to photos of nude or semi-nude young males and graphic sexual content," the paper says. "The photos are the subject of lewd comments from chat room participants as far away as Australia." In a follow-up story, the paper reported that parents and coaches are calling for tough new restrictions on who's allowed to photograph water polo players when they're not in the water.
Source: USA Today
Third, from Allentown, Pennsylvania comes this news:
Cell Phone Porn Scandal Hits U.S. School
At least 40 high school students believed to have received images
Police tried to stop the spread of pornographic video and photos of two U.S. high school girls, images that were transmitted by cell phone to dozens of the girls' classmates and then to the wider world.
At least 40 Parkland High School students believed to have received the images must show their phones to police by Tuesday to ensure the images have been erased, or they could be prosecuted in juvenile court for possession of child pornography, District Attorney James B. Martin said Thursday.
But students at the Pennsylvania school said the distribution was far more widespread. "Most people got it and kept passing it along for fun to everyone in their phonebook," said Jon Gabriel, 16, a junior who said he received and deleted the images.
The digital age our kids are growing up certainly has a lot to offer on the positive side. But, perhaps we've unintentionally underplayed the dangers. From these news items I've concluded:
1) No one can assume that any picture transmitted electronically, whether posted to a social networking site, emailed, or distributed via cellphone is "private" information.
2) With camera cellphones in widespread use, pictures can be captured anywhere, anytime, in any situation.
3) Once a picture has been posted and distributed, the distribution cycle cannot be stopped. Sure, a picture may not have "legs" and have no distribution life to speak of. Take my picture off this blog and send it to someone. What, maybe three people actually see it and delete it immediately? But, if someone sends a racy picture of a 14-year-old girl that was taken on a cellphone by a friend at a sleep-over, that photo might end up being seen by classmates and posted on websites around the world!
So, with technology that's here to stay, what's a parent to do? Well, as Homeland Security is known to say, "Be vigilant!" Set clear expectations on photo taking, posting and distribution with your kids. If your kid needs a new cellphone, evaluate whether or not they should have one with a camera. Press school officials to set policies on cellphone and digital camera usage in sensitive areas like pools, locker rooms, and restrooms. And pray...that your child's photo won't end up on some porn site on the Internet. If you have other ideas, please add to the discussion!