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Digital Dangers the Focus of Annual School Safety and Security Conference

"Digital immigrants" learn what they can do to protect themselves and students from social media pitfalls at a conference sponsored by South Jersey county prosecutors.

With their smartphones, tablets and even the old dinosaur—a computer—kids seem to be checked in, tagged and connected every minute of the day. But when it comes to the dangers of social media, the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office isn’t LOLing.

Online dangers and the volatile relationship between youth and social media highlighted Wednesday’s sixth annual School Safety and Security Conference at Washington Township High School. Seven county prosecutor’s offices throughout South Jersey hosted the Aug. 15 conference, open to the public.

As five speakers took the stage to address different issues of online safety, ranging from child predators to classroom recording, it was apparent that with an evolving online presence, security measures also are evolving. 

“Every year I come and every year I learn something different,” said Cheryl Fairchild, supervisor of the . This year she picked up tips on how to adjust privacy settings on Facebook, something that can benefit teachers and students alike.

Fairchild says she is impressed with the relevancy and information presented every year. She says it’s important for administrators to stay on the cutting edge of emerging dangers. Information she plans to take back to West Deptford includes the dangers of tagging on Facebook and students recording in the classroom, a concern raised by Sgt. Steven LaPorta of Gloucester County Prosecutors Office’s High Tech Crimes Unit.

“There is nothing that can defend you once it has been recorded,” LaPorta warned. 

Students have more technology than ever and can easily record teachers and peers with smartphones, iPads and even pens made with built-in recording devices. A classroom is a public setting and there is no expectation of privacy, LaPorta stressed.

Wednesday’s presentation comes not long after in December after a pupil taped him cursing and verbally harassing another student.

Fairchild says she also found Capt. Steven Tallard’s presentation on sexual predators very interesting, especially the idea of “modern stranger danger.”

“There are so many different types of sex offenders. They’re like snowflakes, no two are alike,” said Tallard, of the New Jersey Division of Parole.

Through social media sites, such as Facebook, child predators can find information on child or teens with more ease than ever before, the captain cautioned. Grooming—a predator’s tactic to establish trust with the victim—is now faster and has no time constraint because of the Internet and social media, Tallard added. Children make themselves easier targets by becoming Facebook “friends” with strangers and compromising their personal information.

“You are only as secure as your least secure friend,” Tallard said of the dangers of tagging people on Facebook.

Jim Janco, Comcast’s director of security and privacy, also was on hand at the conference to talk about the dangers of fake apps and how criminals can hack into children or teens’ smartphones. Parents and teachers—“digital immigrants,” as Janco called them—can help prevent hacking by checking the permissions on an app before allowing a child to download it onto their smartphone, and installing security software.

Michelle Martyn of the Atlantic County Sherriff’s Office said she attended the conference to remain current Web and social media trends, dangers and prevention tactics. Martyn gives presentations on Internet safety one or two times a month at various locations in her county.

“I’m always looking for new and updated stats,” Martyn said. 

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