Vernon families learn about Internet safety

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  • Vernon Township District Chief Technology Officer Matthew Shea presents Digital Citizenship: the Good, the Bad, & Kittens.

Vernon Township District Chief Technology Officer Matthew Shea gave a thought provoking presentation at the Families Empowered Vernon Town Hall regarding: “Digital Citizenship: the Good, the Bad, & Kittens.”

Shea said 88 percent of the Vernon Township High School students and 50 percent of fourth graders all have smart phones. He commented, that was a “staggering statistic,” because it means all of those students are on the internet. Therefore, Shea said, he knew he “needed to get in front of families,” so parents would know what risks to talk about with their students.

Shea defined a good digital citizen as one who: does not bully or allow bullying, and manages their digital footprint.

He explained New Jersey has some of the most stringent harassment, intimidation, and bullying laws. If a student picks on another child, he said, it is a legal problem. For example, he said, two 13-year-olds are being charged with a Class IV Felony due to cyber-bullying in Andover.

Recently, Shea continued, a high school student googled his name and did not like the results. The student asked how to get rid of it. To which Shea explained, “There is no getting rid of that.”

Regarding how permanent the internet is, Shea said, a digital footprint can be improved with placing good content on the internet. The search engines work so the good, or bad, bubbles to the top.

Still, he said, “If you post something inappropriate, that could be out there a long time.” For example on, the 1996 Vernon Township website, removed years ago, can still be found.

Shea also read a kid-friendly Instagram privacy policy, where a British lawyer synthesized eight pages of end user license agreements into one paragraph. In effect, Shea said, people who accept the agreement just told Instagram, “You can take all my personal information, sell it, and do what ever you want with it,” including: “name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone numbers, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you Instagram, your birth date, and private messages.”

He added, Snapchat is even worse, because they are legally required to keep pictures in case of subpoena – even after a user deletes photos.

He also answered, “Who can see what you do on the Internet?” In spite of the Fourth Amendment, a 2012 Facebook landmark case determined “friends” are free to share social media posts any way they want. Specifically in the case, someone committed a crime and shared how he got away with it on Facebook. However, a “friend” turned the information over to the police.

Shea also explained, they use different content guardians at school, and the district follows the Children's Internet Protection Act. He said, they track and log all Google Docs, Gmail, and do their due diligence.

As for the question, “Am I anonymous?” Shea told of a student “gamer,” who said in a chat room, “I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids.” Shea said, this falls under a “terroristic threat.” The other players notified “Riot Games,” and the authorities used reverse lookup of the IP address in order to prosecute the student. As a 16 year-old, he faced a potential eight years in jail for his comments. Shea added, “No, you are not anonymous. To the law, they don't care if the kids understand or not. They're still held to their actions.”

Shea also warned of the legal ramifications of “sexting” among under-age students. He said, even if a boyfriend or girlfriend, under the age of 18, takes a photo of him or herself, that is considered child pornography. If the photo is sent to a boyfriend or girlfriend, they have now distributed child pornography.

Child pornography results in a felony with years in jail and fines. He added, until three years ago, 12–to-16 year-olds were being labeled sex offenders. That label continues throughout life, preventing career choices such as public education and police. New Jersey changed the law, and now a judge decides if a student should be labeled as a sex offender.

Shea emphasized, “Why take the chance? Just don't take the chance,” and added, “They need to think about it before they hit that send button.”

Shea concluded with the associated risks of posting something as simple as a kitten photo on the internet. He explained, Florida State University completed a privacy experiment with super computers, where they scraped off internet meta-data - data attached to photos - of one million public kitten pictures.

They then used the latitude/longitude coordinates to make a point. If one clicks on kitten photos on, the google street view pops up.

Shea counseled, before taking a picture, check the settings on the phone or device before sharing it, and be careful with whom it is shared.

In conclusion, Shea said, “The internet is a powerful thing, but it is a mine field. There are a lot of things which can go wrong.” He implored parents to discuss the many dangers with their students.

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