Available tools help keep kids safe on social media

A person using a smartphone is shown. (Journal photo by Alexandria Bournonville)



Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Keeping your children safe in an increasingly online world has become a concern for many parents.

In the rise of artificial intelligence and the detrimental effects of online learning to kids’ education, protecting kids has been more important than ever.

“Just because someone sends a face picture or sends a video, it doesn’t mean it’s them,” Marquette County Sheriff Gregory Zyburt said. “It could be anyone and they need to be aware, especially in the coming years with AI … it’s gonna make it even harder to tell who it’s coming from. It’s going to be so easy to get swindled.”

In 2022, Marquette Senior High School student Jordan DeMay died by suicide after experiencing sexual extortion at the hands of malicious scammers from outside the country.

“After the Jordan DeMay (case), there’s some excellent documentaries,” Zyburt said. “I know (ABC’s)Nightline did one … and Chris Hanson is also doing one (online) on TruBlu, that’s coming out at the end of the month.”

Zyburt emphasized the importance of parents having an honest conversation with their children and teens about dangers lurking online. An easy starting point in those conversations are some of those professionally made documentaries.

“If it happens to them,” he said, “they need to reach out to someone they trust: parents, a teacher, school resource officer, a counselor, but you need to do it as soon as possible. If there is sextortion, like that type of thing, there is going to be embarrassment and consequences, but in a week it’s going to be old news and it’s just not worth taking your life or being victimized.”

In a situation like that, Zyburt said the victim should save the evidence of the conversation from the person targeting them and then promptly block them.

A local branch of the Jehovah’s Witness World Headquarters also raised concerns about the practice of cyberbullying. The JWWH recommends the following government website to keep parents informed: stopbullying.gov. It details the kinds of behaviors parents and caretakers should look out for in their children, if they suspect they are being cyberbullied.

“Especially since the (COVID-19) pandemic it seems that cyberbullying is on the rise,” Brother Jeremy Misale said. “There’s no question that technology is becoming more and more a part of our young ones’ lives. This has given bullies a new outlet because it’s easy for them with just a click to taunt, harass and threaten. According to a Pew Research Center 2022 study, nearly half of teens have experienced cyberbullying.”

Misale pointed to a free resource on his organization’s website, jw.org, that provides information on cyber safety without being charged or entering any personal information. Two articles Misale directs parents to are “What if My Child is Being Bullied” and “Children and Smartphones.”

“We genuinely want to help families deal with the difficult problems they face in today’s complicated world,” Misale said.

Zyburt reminded parents and young adults that if an explicit photo is uploaded to the internet, takeitdown.ncmec.org, was made to help take those pictures down.

“I believe that people everywhere are concerned about this growing threat to our young people, especially because of the impact it’s having on them. It erodes self-confidence and often leads to loneliness, depression and anxiety,” Misale said.

Zyburt offered one key piece of advice: “Be aware.”

JW.org is just one of the sites that can offer help for those who are being bullied online or are facing an online crisis.

These include:

¯ www.michigan.gov/ok2say

¯ Crisis Text Line serves anyone in any type of crisis: Visit www.crisistextline.org or text START to 741741

¯ The Cyberbullying Research Center action steps for bystanders: https://cyberbullying.org/standing-up-to-cyberbullying-tips-for-teens.pdf

¯ The Cyberbullying Research Center action steps for teens: cyberbullying.org/standing-up-to-cyberbullying-tips-for-teens

¯ Contact information to report abuse for social media apps, gaming networks, and related companies: cyberbullying.org/report

¯ Stopbullying.gov/

Alexandria Bournonville can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 506. Her email address is abournonville@miningjournal.net.


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