Police, school officials ask parents to watch out for 'Keyboard Courage'
One day after an Anchorage high schooler posted a threat on social media, the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Police Department ask that parents talk to their children and stay informed.
"Ultimately we recommend for any parent in town to understand that there are some tremendous and wonderful things about the internet," APD Cyber Crimes Unit Sgt. Aaron Whitt said. "Also that the internet is not a safe place."
Whitt says apps like Kik, a Canadian chat app is hard to monitor because warrants just can't be served as easily to Canada.
"If we see something on that app, we have to get the country's approval," Whitt said. "It can take a while to serve that warrant."
Snapchat is also another difficult app to monitor because pictures and messages disappear.
"We can be told there are pictures of naked teens being passed along or child porn but it's just hard to catch," Whitt said. "We'd have to take someone's word for it. It's just hard to do with nothing we can search or find."
Whitt says all apps can be used for illegal activities and that is why it is so important to talk with your kids about what they are doing.
"Any app that asks for a geolocation is trouble," Whitt said. "That puts a location to where the post is being made from. Young teens like 13 or 14 years old don't understand that what they post can be tracked by what's in the background. A piece of mail on the table, a mailbox or house number in the background. Videos taken inside the house and give someone a complete layout of the house and how to enter."
Posting messages or pictures on the internet is usually traceable.
"There is a syndrome that we call 'keyboard courage,'" Whitt said. "It's where individuals sit behind a keyboard and believe they have a protection of anonymity. Everything has a path and we can usually find where it came from. If you wouldn't say it in person you probably shouldn't say it on the internet. If it's also not a picture your parents or grandparents would put on the refrigerator you shouldn't post it online."
ASD and police view online threats as serious as verbal threats. Both departments urge parents to be armed with information and to talk with their children about real life consequences about online postings.
"Our kids today have so much access to information," ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said. "Some of it good, some of it bad. We can't even think about it. It's this exponential growth, we haven't had those experiences when we are parents were growing up. We have no idea the pressures our kids are under whether that's bullying or social media."
For parents, it's difficult to understand a lot of what our kids are going through. It's still important to make time to talk.
"My mom and dad could probably figure out what my day in life looked like, and what my experiences were," Dr. Bishop said. "If you even take simple social media like Facebook, you won't see anyone under the age of 18 on Facebook. Once we do figure things out electronically as parents, they move on to the next platform. It takes being informed and engaged with them."
A few things you can do as a parent is to ensure your child's safety online is not only to talk but to monitor. Anything posted on social media can have not only a direct impact on the child for years or a lifetime but also an impact on the family and community.
"If your child is on an app like Instagram or Snapchat, make sure you are added as a friend or follower," Whitt said. "If you're not, get rid of the device. Also, if you don't know your child's password or passcode, get rid of the device. If the child won't share the password or passcode, get rid of the device. As long as you're the parent and they live under your roof, you have to understand you are in control. Having a device and access to social media isn't a right, it's a privilege."
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