Remember, your online actions are ‘public and permanent’

The Internet and cell phones are convenient, and usually offer fun diversions. But there’s a dark side to this new technology.

Recently Americans have been astounded as they hear how teens interact with these new digital tools and the dangers that lurk there. True tales—sometimes leading to criminal convictions—make more than a few parents think they are living in the Wild West of Communication.

At the 29th UW-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse on Oct. 21-23, hundreds of social workers, police officers, mental health practitioners, and others will learn about the dangers in the digital world—dangers that youth seldom understand.

Richard Guerry, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication, will be keynote speaker at the conference at the Madison Marriott West in Middleton.

Guerry believes everyone must develop a “digital consciousness” that reminds a user that every action done on the Internet is “public and permanent,” Prof. Jim Campbell, associate dean of Continuing Studies and conference director, says.

“Whether one is snapping cell phone photos, posting on Facebook, describing the next family vacation, or playing an online game with others from around the world—all is not as upbeat as it looks,” says Guerry, who writes digital safety curriculum for schools.

Today’s adults and teens must understand that the very technology they love so much can land them in ‘very hot water’—and even in criminal court. Guerry explains how an 18-year old had a nude photo of his 16-year old girlfriend, but after an argument the boy circulated the explicit photo throughout the teens’ school. The consequence: the boy was convicted of distributing child pornography and sent to prison.

Most of us have been shocked and saddened by the too-often occurring cases of cyber-bullying, but Guerry can describe other difficult issues such as how people involved in Internet pornography use webcams, cell phone photos and other ruses to capture and sell even a half-minute video of a teen undressing.

Here are a few digital safety reminders from Guerry:

Losing a phone, computer or thumb drive can lead to photos getting posted on the Internet, and living there forever.

Sending photos to the trash or deleting them from a SD card does not mean they have disappeared. Software exists to recover anything.

Cyber-bullying is not anonymous. In 2010, a judge ordered Google to reveal anonymous users involved in such a case.

Tweets: all are saved in the Library of Congress for historical purposes.

Hackers can get into a computer and turn on a webcam, without anyone realizing it.

One identity is stolen every three seconds on the Internet.

Guerry is one of two keynote speakers at the UW-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse. The conference also includes 50 institutes on topics such as forgiveness as treatment, sexual abuse in sports, teen addiction to online pornography, interview techniques for use with young victims, translation of neurobiology for clinical use, understanding the minds of male survivors of child sexual abuse, and more.