Students get lessons in online safety

Herkimer middle school students got to brush up on their cyber-safety skills recently, with help from School Resource Officer Shauna Jones, prevention specialist Crystal Gerhardt and a special guest from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

On Monday, SRO Jones and Mrs. Gerhardt visited classrooms to talk to students about the information they post online. Students looked at a sample social media profile and several social media posts to spot information that wasn’t appropriate, including using full names and other identifying information.

“Your messages do not go away,” SRO Jones warned the students, describing situations when police and other law enforcement agencies have retrieved data that had been deleted in the course of investigations.

On Tuesday, students heard a presentation by Ashley Simons of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who reminded students to use their common sense and expertise to keep themselves safe online.

“You guys are the experts,” Simons reminded the students, after most students raised their hands to say they had played online games such as Fortnite. “We want you to be online — but we want you to do it safely.”

Simons shared stories with students about young people who had been exploited by people they met online, and reminded students that the best thing to do is to speak up if something doesn’t seem right.

“Use your voices, be empowered, be confident, be strong,” Simons urged students. “It’s OK to say no. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s not safe.”

Students or parents who come across troubling content online are encouraged to report it to the NCMEC’s CyberTipline at (800) 843-5678 or online at https://report.cybertip.org/