DINSMORE - Giving a special presentation at Dinsmore Composite School to a group of concerned parents and teachers, officers Jesse Kimball, Fraser Cameron, and William Hynes of the Outlook RCMP detachment reminded people both in the classroom and online via streaming that without the proper attention, kids today and even adults can easily fall victim to online predators.
On Monday night, March 13, 'Parenting in the Digital Age - The Impact of Technology on Our Kids' was seen as a vital, much-needed refresher on the potential dangers that lurk online, especially after the heavy reliance on web technology that came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With our world's rapidly increasing reliance on technology, youth that are growing up today don't know of a world without mobile phones or social media. As such, with so much of their lives being lived online, there's potential for dangerous lines to be crossed. For example, police are seeing that sexting and sextortion have become more and more prevalent. They're seeing cases where an image of a semi-naked or fully naked teenager gets sent to someone, and then that predator uses the image to extort the teen for money or something else.
When this happens, police say that the incredibly embarrassed youth who find themselves embroiled in these situations might make drastic or even fatal decisions because as soon as something gets sent, it's completely out of your control. Referenced was the infamous case of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd, who was a victim of extreme cyber-bullying and was also blackmailed into exposing her breasts on a webcam. On September 7, 2012, the 15-year old student posted a YouTube video entitled, 'My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self-harm', which showed her using a series of flashcards to tell of her experiences being bullied.
On October 10, 2012, Amanda Todd took her own life when the anxiety, panic, and depression related to her sexual exploitation and cyber-bullying became too heavy for her to overcome. It wasn't until just last year that the man spearheading the attacks, Aydin Coban, faced a punishment for his part in Todd's death. Coban, a Dutch-Turkish man who was already imprisoned for sexual blackmail in the Netherlands, was extradited to Canada to face trial on charges of harassing and sexually extorting Todd before her suicide. On August 5, 2022 the jury found Coban guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on October 14.
As a result of cases such as what happened with Amanda Todd, the province of British Columbia is set to introduce a law that targets people who post intimate images online without consent. The intention of the new legislation is to streamline the process to have the pictures taken down and give victims an avenue to claim compensation from a civil standpoint.
Cst. Kimball told the Dinsmore audience that kids' minds are routinely blown when police lay down the cold hard facts about what can be done to retrieve evidence of a crime on their mobile phones, as simply deleting texts and images doesn't truly get rid of them when the police have technology at their disposal. Police are reminding parents and youth alike that in addition to the RCMP, there are a number of avenues are available to kids who feel that they may be targeted in some bad online activity, including the Kids Help Phone, NeedHelpNow.ca, and CyberTip.ca.
"A lot of kids almost don't think it's happening," said Cst. Kimball. "We're on the front lines, and it's definitely happening. It's here, and it's terrifying."
The police also remind people that they're kidding themselves if they believe that things such as 'the cloud' are a safety net of some kind, as that's still a computer run by a team of complete strangers. As well, new technology that continues to morph itself almost on a daily basis such as AI (artificial intelligence) is seen as horrifying from the perspective of the law, as it blurs the lines of reality to a disturbing level. On top of that, online gaming on video game consoles such as PlayStation or X-Box can open the gates for potential predators due to the seemingly-limited availability of parental control options.
"It's becoming a lot more common than people probably believe," said Cst. Cameron.
Dinsmore teacher Lance Morrison commended the presentation given by the officers and wondered if they would return to talk with the students themselves on the subject in order to drive the point home. To that end, a future appearance by the officers back at DCS to speak with students is in the works.
After the officers had left the school, Dinsmore principal Jade Ballek went over some talking points after the presentation, including a highlight of the generational gap between parents of today and parents of 25-30 years ago. Ballek pointed out how she saw "horrifying" chat transcripts between kids that she knew based on MSN Messenger chats in 2005 that changed how she looked at kids in the hallway at school. It was also noted that most social media sites and apps just make the assumption that users are 13 years of age and older, which is an obvious mistake if one looks at the actual ages of users who are on these sites and apps every day.
Overall, the presentation by police was an eye-opener to the harsh realities that can be faced online and parents in the room were reminded that, as quoted during the presentation, "What happens online can have offline consequences."