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TMCNet:  Forum to address social media's effect on teens

[April 30, 2013]

Forum to address social media's effect on teens

Apr 30, 2013 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Recent national media coverage of teens' misuse of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has prompted a forum on the consequences of using social media.

The forum, titled "#tbh: Truth &Consequences of Social Media," is Thursday at 6 p.m. at Embassy Suites on 4760 Lake Valley Drive. The event is sponsored by Cumberland County schools and Communities in Schools of Cumberland County.

Cindy Kowal, executive director of Communities in Schools, said the organization wanted to hold an event that would strike the right note with parents and students about social media.

"As we were brainstorming, we found that there was a lot of activity in the news about social media," she said.

Two high school football players in Ohio were convicted in March of sexually assaulting a girl during a party. One of the teens was accused of sending text messages that included photographs of the girl with her clothing removed.

The victim, who was intoxicated at the time of the assault, learned about the sexual assault through photos and comments posted about the incident on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and text messages.

In April, two teenage girls committed suicide after photos of them being sexually assaulted were posted online. Students used cell phones to share photos of the attack, which quickly were spread on the Internet.

"I think parents are really at a disadvantage because they don't know what their kids are saying or posting on these social media platforms," Kowal said. "There are legal implications now of what you are saying online, whether it's cyberbullying or passing on information. Teens don't understand the consequences their digital footprint online. There could be some tragic consequences." Parents may feel they are up to speed on the latest social media outlets, but there are new platforms each day, she said. Teens not only use Facebook and Twitter, but also Snapchat, Tumblr and Patch.

Teens will have more access to social media platforms in school as digital devices replace traditional textbooks. State legislators signed a bill in March that calls for public schools to allocate more money for devices such as digital textbooks and iPads. The bill also encourages the use of personal digital devices in the classroom.

"Our school system is striving to be at the forefront of technology in the classroom," Kowal said. "What are the disadvantages of bringing your own device Kids can find their way around the firewall. Parents and kids do not realize the level of personal responsibility." David Phillips, the lawyer for Cumberland County schools, said the forum will raise awareness of the rules involving social media.

"We want to use social media to our advantage, but we want to use it wisely and appropriately," he said. "It is a hot issue now nationally, and even criminal justice officials are interested in this now. We just want the kids to be aware and safe." Det. Sgt. Gregory Mills, a digital evidence recovery specialist with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, plans to speak on the criminal aspect of social media during the forum.

For example sexting, the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs between mobile phones, could be a felony offense.

Teens who intentionally disseminate images depicting sexual conduct could constitute first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, depending on the age of the individual in the image, Mills said.

Individuals can be charged with cyberbullying if they use social media to intimate or threaten someone, he said.

"They don't think about their actions until they are caught," Mills said.

Parents and students attending the forum are encouraged to bring their digital devices. There will be several interactive demonstrations.

"We hope that it will be an educational evening," Kowal said. "It is tailored to Cumberland, but we are inviting neighboring counties. We hope to create a higher level of awareness for all users." Staff writer Venita Jenkins can be reached at jenkinsv@fayobserver.com or 486-3511.

___ (c)2013 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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