Parents, investigators, administrators telling students to be careful when using social media
DICKSON CITY - Dolores and Charles DiTucci are completely comfortable with their daughter's presence on Facebook.
They don't worry about cyber bullying, inappropriate posts or any other questionable usage of the social media site because they are very involved.
"We're friends with her and we're friends with her friends," DiTucci said. "They know what's acceptable and not acceptable."
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become a common platform for adolescents to exchange messages, photos and other media. They also have become a tool for bullies and predators. Last month, two area students were arrested and charged with terroristic threats after posting messages through social media.
These websites allow students unchecked access to a public audience. Officials, administrators and parents are trying to reinforce the idea that messages publicized through social media are permanent.
Sabrina DiTucci, 16, is the youngest of the family from Newfoundland. When her siblings were younger, they had to hand over their cell phones to their parents at 10 p.m. each night.
The DiTuccis take the same approach with Facebook. If they question a post, they talk to Sabrina. They also emphasize that no personal information, phone numbers, addresses or details about going out of town are to be posted, DiTucci added.
It's the same approach Kristen Yarmey, digital services librarian for the University of Scranton, suggests parents adopt.
"If your kids are on Facebook, you should be on Facebook, too," she said. "Be sure that you're having a conversation about it."
Since social media usage has grown, it has evolved faster than social norms can adapt, she added. She said there are great uses for the systems, but cautioned users of how much they share.
"When you sign in to Facebook, you have this sense of this is for me," Yarmey said. "It's really a gigantic business that is making money on collecting information about you."
That information can be seen by friends, but it can also be printed, emailed or shared with administrators or authorities. That was the case with Scranton Prep student Torre Scrimalli, 18, who was arrested after he threatened on Twitter to "blow up" Mid Valley and Holy Cross schools, causing the evacuation of 900 people from a basketball game at Mid Valley High School Feb. 4.
Less than a month later, a 16-year-old girl who attends cyberschool but lives within the Carbondale Area School District was charged with harassment and terroristic threats after threatening the school district's resource officer on Facebook. Her name was not released by investigators.
Both cases are pending.
Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said each message and post is taken on a case-by-case basis, but each are evaluated carefully.
"We have to take them seriously and at face value," he said. "God forbid if we don't do something and something severe happens, then shame on us."
The district attorney's office visits schools and community centers to hold presentations about best practices and the dangers that exist online and through social media, he added.
Though he said parents needed to set their own guidelines with children, awareness was key.
"Just take notice of what your kids are doing," he said. "Think before you hit that send button."
Area administrators said usage policies and assemblies have addressed the audience of messages posted and issues like cyber bullying.
"They're obviously told that what they print there is forever and they're responsible for it," said Lakeland Superintendent Margaret Billings-Jones, Ed.D. "Once it's downloaded, it never goes away."
In Scranton, Superintendent William King said students go through a training each year before they access computers and the Internet at school.
"I know our teachers are constantly trying to talk to our kids," he said.
Even with these proactive measures, district officials can run into barriers when questionable online behavior takes place outside of school.
"It's a slippery slope, because of the First Amendment of free speech," King said. "A lot of them are using their own computers at home, outside of school hours. That's where we have to be careful, too, but if somebody puts something out there that we think is criminal in nature, then any citizen would have a responsibility to react to it."
Yarmey believes that the law will start to catch up with social media and could address those issues.
"There are pieces of legislation that are emerging just to let people know that this whole world isn't really regulated," she said. "I think we'll see a lot more conversation about regulations and best practices."
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