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ACGC students hear about risks of using social media: Message to teachers

Ninth grade student Larry Bomstad uses his cell phone Wednesday to cast votes in an interactive poll as part of the presentation. Bomstad and his fellow ACGC students heard a presentation on the dangers of a digital footprint and social networks. The presenter was Dave Eisenmann, director of instructional technology and media services at the Minnetonka school district. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

GROVE CITY -- Unlike footprints in the snow that are quickly blown away in the wind, the digital footprints people leave behind when they post a photo on Facebook or send a text message on cell phones can last forever.

Sometimes those digital footprints -- like embarrassing videos from a party or scathing comments about a boss -- can walk around the world and stomp out future college or job prospects.

Those footprints can even walk a person into jail.

Those messages were delivered to Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City students this week during a po-werful presentation on the potential dangers of using social me-dia and texting.

Dave Eis-enmann, director of instructional technology and media services at Minnetonka Public Schools, combined a jaw-dropping interactive video presentation with old-fashioned advice about grandmothers to deliver the message.

Eisenmann had conducted a workshop with ACGC teachers earlier this year. The administration was so impressed with his message they invited him back to do four presentations Wednesday to sixth- through 12th-grade students, paraprofessionals and parents.

The quiet murmurs and giggles of ninth- through 12th-grade students at the beginning of the presentation erupted into an outburst of embarrassed shock when they saw their own Facebook profile pages flashed on the screen in the school auditorium.

Photos of the students, their birth dates, hobbies, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, where they attended school and photos of their Facebook friends were all on display.

"I recognize some of you," Eisenmann told the students.

He had never met them before and had not "friended" them on Facebook, but he had been looking at their Facebook pages by doing a simple search of people attending ACGC.

Eisenmann didn't do anything illegal to get the students' personal information. It's available to any one of the half-billion people currently using Facebook.

If Facebook was a country, he said, it would be the third most populated country in the world, right behind China and India.

Laying details of your life out for much of the world to see could be dangerous, Eisenmann said.

Beyond the dramatic stories of predators using social media to find young victims, Eisenmann said there are other home-grown dangers involving technology that happen to teens every day: A nude photo sent to a boyfriend that's distributed to everyone in his cell phone directory, or "textual harassment" that can be traced for criminal charges long after it's been deleted from a cell phone.

"You are the most digitized generation yet," he said, warning that there are risks and responsibilities that accompany that. "Digitizing is permanent."

Because of entities like the "Wayback Machine" that archives Internet web pages or that scours Internet footprints that can be used to find incriminating information on people, Eisenmann cautioned students to be very careful before they hit the "send" button.

While it may not mean anything to a teenager now, Eisenmann said items students digitize today could be seen and read by their own children and grandchildren 20 to 30 years from now.

For immediate concerns, he said digital material can also be seen by colleges considering scholarship candidates or business owners looking to hire a student for a summer job.

His advice: Don't post anything that you wouldn't be comfortable having your grandmother see and read.

"Don't send anything that doesn't pass the grandma test," he said.

By using their cell phones to answer questions -- with the responses seen immediately on an interactive bar graph -- about 80 percent of the ACGC students said they had regretted sending a piece of data at some time.

After it's sent, "you can't get it back," said Eisenmann. "There can be long-term consequences to that."

Other advice Eisenmann gave to the students:

- Protect personal information by using privacy settings on Facebook and changing passwords frequently for all Internet sites.

- If you receive a nude photo of a student on your cell phone, seek assistance from an adult to create an alibi and delete the photo. Not doing so could put you at risk for criminal charges of possessing child pornography.

- Clean up past Internet footprints that don't pass the "grandma test" by deleting questionable photos, videos or words -- and hope no one's printed or copied them -- and "keep a clean footprint from here on out."

Besides following basic Internet safety rules, Dave Eisenmann has additional advice for educators when it comes to using social media like Facebook to interact with students.

Facebook can be a useful tool for teachers to connect with students, but he said being a Facebook friend with students could put teachers into difficult positions if they see photos of high school students engaged in illegal activities on the weekend, like drinking.

Because the lines can "blur" when it comes to professional and private lives, he cautioned school employees to be careful about posting on social media sites their own private information -- from vacations or parties, for example -- that could jeopardize their standing in the community and their jobs.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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