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Middle Schoolers Warned Social Media Releases Info Into the World

A presentation by the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office on Monday taught students at West Deptford Middle School how to keep the information they release online private.

For all of its benefits, technology can quickly make a mistake spiral out of control, West Deptford Middle School students were warned Monday afternoon.

Safety in regards to technology was the overarching theme for an assembly at West Deptford Middle School. Det. Brian Perticari of the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office gave a presentation to the seventh- and eighth-grade students, stressing the importance of being responsible with the use of social media, computers and cell phones.

Perticari works for the GCPO's High Tech Crimes Unit that monitors online and phone activity. He showed throughout the presentation how information sent through phones and online is not as private as it appears to be.

“Anything that you put out there, anyone can see,” Perticari emphasized to the students.

The presentation hit home with many of the middle schoolers who frequent various social media sites and are also on their cell phones daily. West Deptford Middle School is also a different case than other schools in that all the students have laptops. The middle school began its laptop program in 2011.

While Michael Fanelli, principal at West Deptford Middle School, reiterated that social media sites are blocked on the school network, he also made a point to mention that these lessons about technology go beyond the classroom.

“What we're trying to do is just empower them," he said, “because now it's not just a school rule you're going to be involved with, it's going to be something that involves the prosecutor's office and also rebuilding yourself in the pictures or words you put out there.”

“We wanted to make sure that the kids understood that these devices, unlike a book, gives them the power to have improper decisions.”

Perticari's presentation included examples of the severe consequences that students could face if they expose information to strangers. He showed them how to make information private on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“The biggest thing is knowing how to protect yourself, so you don't get caught into making a bad decision,” said Perticari. “You can still go out there, have a good time, discover what is out there online. But doing it safely, I think, is more important than anything else.”

Perticari also talked about cyberbullying and the consequences of what can be written online or through text messaging. He used examples such as the Tyler Clementi case at Rutgers to make his point.

Ultimately, the goal for Perticari was the have the students head home having learned more about the information that they are releasing to the world. He hopes that the students can now use technology responsibly in order to keep themselves out of trouble with the law and with others.

“Everything changes daily,” he said. “A new site pops up, a new feature on that site pops up, so we have to stay on top of it and showing [the students] what is out there.”

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