Mt. Zion Baptist Church Pastor Ben Mock and Pickens County Corporal Chris Leake
Follow this link to read "The Believer's Guide to Facebook" by Rev. Mock
At a forum Sunday night at Mount Zion Church on the dangers of social media, Corporal Chris Leake with the Pickens Sheriff’s office advised parents to use today’s technology to their advantage, teach kids how to behave civilly on social media sites, and above all never post anything your grandmother wouldn’t approve of.
With 845 million Facebook users, 465 million twitter users and more than 2 billion views a day on YouTube, everyone seems to be connected online. Leake said 4.8 billion people worldwide have mobile phones while just 4.2 billion own a toothbrush.
“Part of the appeal of being online is you can be who you want,” Leake said. “You have that veil. You have no idea who you’re talking to on the other end.”
According to Leake, bullying is a major issue in society today and cyber bullying can be easier than bullying someone face-to-face. The federal government has a program called Title 9 that tells schools and law enforcement agencies how to deal with issues related to bullying because it’s viewed as a violation of civil rights.
“Bullying can go on as long as someone stays silent about it,” Leake said. “The faster someone speaks up the faster we can start doing something about it. Facebook bullying is huge because all it takes is one person to post something and it is everywhere, instantly.”
Leake said kids aren’t the only ones bullying others online.
“I’ve seen some parents participate in it too. Rumors spread. We love a good rumor right? You see someone else post something and then you post it too. That’s the impact of being ‘plugged in’.”
Leake advised parents to teach their children how to be civil online.
“I’ve watched some parents post some very mean things about people online and then their kids do it and they sit there and scratch their heads like they don’t know where they learned it from. Set a good example for your kids through your own use of social media.”
Facebook requires users to be at least 13 before signing up for an account, but, Leake said, there are lots of kids under that age with a Facebook page. Parents ask him all the time, he said, ‘How old is old enough?’ He said he always tells parents it’s about their relationship with their child and how much they trust them.
“That’s a decision you and your family have to make,” he said.
Leake said prior to your child starting a Facebook, twitter or mobile texting, parents should set their rules and expectations.
“Tell them you want their user name and password. You’d be amazed how many parents say they won’t do that because they respect their child’s privacy. Well I don’t mine. That’s a family decision but at the very least be “friends” with them on Facebook so you can see everything they’re posting. Having clear set boundaries right off the bat will help you immensely.”
“You’re the one who owns their phone, you pay for the internet account.”
Leake said communication is key between parents and their children when it comes to protecting them online.
“Use technology to your own advantage. If you want to know where your child is use the ‘Find my iPhone’ app. See what they’re posting on Facebook. Use the account settings through cell phone companies and check up on when they’re texting. If you see there’s an excessive amount of texting at night talk to them about it. Ask them why they’re texting then.”
If you become the target of harassment, Leake said he tells kids to talk to their parents or another trusted adult.
Prior to working with the local sheriff’s office, Leake worked crimes against children and saw how meeting people online can go horribly wrong.
“A lot of times I saw these girls who would be willing to go with these older men they met online. They would make arrangements to meet them and go off somewhere. It’s a very scary thing.”
Along with bullying, Leake said sexting is another major problem in social media today.
“There are children and there are adults taking inappropriate pictures of themselves and passing them on to other people.”
Leake advised kids to never give in to pressure from a boyfriend or friend to take a picture of themselves and send it. “Once you hit send, it’s out there,” he said.
“Your friend today is not your friend tomorrow. If you send that picture the next thing you know it’s all over school. One stupid decision can wreck your life.”
Once an electronic text message or email is sent, it stays on a server forever, Leake said, and cannot be deleted.
“What goes on the web stays on the web forever. Forever,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you delete it. Once you put it out there it is on some server somewhere. A message sent is a message received. You send that message and you can’t take it back.”
If a minor sends a text message of his or herself doing something inappropriate, Leake said, it is designated as distributing pornography and carries a 20-year sentence.
“It’s a very serious problem and some counties are prosecuting them. Fortunately, in our county we are using it as an educational moment but making sure they understand that if it happens again it’s a serious problem with the law. And a serious problem with morals.”
To protect yourself online, Leake said he advises kids to think of the Internet as a “world-wide window”.
“Every time you log on you need to think, ‘How wide do I want this window open? How much do I want people to see?’ Also, don’t play into bullying online or passing on posts about others.”
Remembering that online friends may not be true friends, Leake asked the audience: “How many of your Facebook friends would you let house sit your home while you’re away? How many would you let come and watch your kids? How many of them would you trust with your bank account information?”