MOUNT PLEASANT — When Bailey Champ was in middle school, she accepted friends through her Facebook account that she didn’t actually know.
“I didn’t realize how dangerous that was,” said Champ, now a freshman at Wando High. “It was a while ago, and I didn’t know, but now I want to go back and change that.”
Champ doesn’t use Facebook much anymore, but if she does, she said she learned some good safety tips Tuesday after listening to an Internet safety presentation.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson told an auditorium of more than 700 Wando High students that they need to be aware that online sexual predators exist, and that no one ever thinks they will be crime victims, he said.
“No one can protect you better than you can protect yourself,” he said. “The dangers on the Internet are very real, so don’t let your guard down because they can get to you.”
Wilson’s stop was one of six he’s making across the state to talk about Internet safety. Most people don’t think the web can be harmful, and Wilson likened it to a chainsaw; it’s a useful tool for someone who knows how to use it, but it can be a weapon for those who don’t.
He encouraged students to protect themselves from themselves, as well as from online predators. He explained how students create a permanent record through their social media accounts, and future colleges and employers will look at those. His office turned down one promising job applicant after discovering some graphic pictures he had posted from spring break.
“It’s not what he did that offended me — everyone makes mistakes,” Wilson said. “But he lacked the judgment to put that content out there. The things you do today or this year could come back and pop you a year or two from now.”
Students also should be wary of online predators, who can gather a significant amount of information from a single picture. He used as an example a JV cheerleader who is tagged in a photo with the rest of her squad.
By that alone, a sexual predator could figure out where she goes to school, her name, and what she looks like, and then could track her down at practice or a game.
“If it’s a possibility, it can be an eventuality,” he said.
He also described what he called an “alarming” trend of students using their camera phones to take and share sexually explicit photos of themselves. Anyone under 18 who takes, shares or receives those can be subject to criminal charges and prison time, he said.
Joining Wilson was Brooke Oberwetter, the associate manager of policy communications for Facebook. She reviewed different privacy and account settings available to the websites users, and she explained how users could report posts that made them uncomfortable or were abusive.
Senior Chance Price said he also learned some good information. Students need to hear more about this issue, and it’s not unusual to hear about someone getting in trouble for something posted on Facebook, he said.
“It definitely should help with what to put out there and what not to share,” he said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.
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