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Protecting Kids Online: FAQs about Digital Dangers

As children, tweens and teens navigate the Internet through increasingly sophisticated electronic devices, the ability to engage in harmful activities is always present. Teachers, parents and other concerned caregivers must arm these youngsters with the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions about how they will conduct themselves while using digital technology.

How are our Kids Staying Connected?

Wireless Devices: electronic tools able to transfer information over a distance without the use of electrical wires. Examples include smart phones, BlackBerrys and cell phones with Internet capabilities.

Social Networking: the interaction between a group of people who share a common interest. Examples include YouTube and Facebook.

Tweeting: text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers.

Blogging: the act of sharing an online journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences, hobbies and opinions.

Interactive Gaming: games that participants can play against others on the same network (typically the Internet). Certain providers, such as Microsoft Xbox Live, offer other enhanced services such as advertising, chat, product/service sales and support, instant messaging and more.

Are there Legal Implications to Digital Activity?

Youth often mistakenly believe that their digital activity is anonymous and cannot be traced back to them. As digital technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds, so do the tools available to law enforcement to investigate and prosecute illegal activity. The key to helping youth avoid legal pitfalls lies in providing them with accurate, age-appropriate information about using digital technology wisely. Risky digital activity, like cyberbullying, sexting and harassment are activities which have the potential to subject youth to long-term negative consequences. School policies, Pennsylvania civil and criminal laws may all be implicated in these unlawful behaviors.

Cyberbullying: the willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

  • There is no age limit on cyberbullying: from elementary school to the workplace, the threats are real and the consequences can be life-altering.
  • Beyond the schoolyard: cyberbullying does not stop when the bell rings. Technology allows 24/7 access for those who engage in bullying behaviors.
  • The anonymity provided by cyberspace creates an opportunity for otherwise polite, respectful individuals to engage in bullying behaviors.
  • According to Pennsylvania law, cyberbullying may be prosecuted under several statutes including harassment, stalking and ethnic intimidation.

Sexting: the sharing of explicit, sexually related content through text or picture messages.

  • Once an image is captured and distributed digitally, the image may be altered, disseminated and/or saved for future use. Control of the image is lost forever.
  • The psychological and emotional effects of sending a sext can be lifelong and have tragic implications.
  • The sending of explicit, sexually related images of children under the age of 18 is illegal and can be considered distribution of child pornography.
  • Distribution of a sext message has state and federal law implications that can include fines, prison sentencing, Megan’s Law enforcement and future employment/college ramifications.

Harassment: the intent to annoy or alarm another person by repeatedly committing acts that serve no legitimate purpose, according to the PA Crimes Code.

  • Harassment can occur in many ways, from verbal or written threats, to unsolicited e-mails to online postings which contain defamatory remarks.
  • There are many forms of online harassment ranging from the sending of threatening or obscene e-mails to the use of spamming in order to electronically sabotage someone, to the use of an Internet chat room or blog as a means to stalk or hassle.
  • Harassment can be a prelude to bullying, in-person or online, and can significantly affect a person’s sense of well-being and safety.
  • All forms of harassment are illegal and in Pennsylvania those who engage in harassment can be subject to both civil and criminal consequences.