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Speaker shares tips on staying safe on social media

Karen Haase, an attorney with KSB School Law, speaks with students at La Vista Middle School.  \

 Karen Haase, an attorney with KSB School Law, speaks with students at La Vista Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
 The top three ways youth get in trouble with social media are from bullying, sexting and ignoring basic internet safety, a national speaker told Papillion La Vista Community Schools students and parents recently.

Karen Haase presented to parents on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 25, as well as to students earlier that day at Papillion-La Vista High School, Papillion-La Vista South High School, Papillion Middle School and La Vista Middle School.

“I play Minecraft,” she said. “I have Snapchat. … It’s not bad; you just have to make good choices.”

She offered practical tips along with recent examples of how bad decisions can create consequences that can have a lasting impact – such as a case of bullying that resulted in a family losing their house to pay a legal settlement and a case where a young person faced criminal charges for having inappropriate photos on their smartphone.

Haase is an attorney with KSB School Law, based out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Her remarks included citations of Nebraska statute and real-world examples of the law in practice. Among the topics she discussed:

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new definition of bullying: “Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.”

This new definition now allows for a single action to be deemed to be bullying if it’s “highly likely to be repeated,” and Haase said the new definition shifts the determination of what’s “unwanted aggressive behavior(s)” to the youth on the receiving end of the action, not an adult evaluating the situation after the fact.

“It used to be that the teacher or the mom and dad or the cops got to decide,” Haase told La Vista Middle School seventh-graders. “If I was a kid, I would really want to know what this definition says.”

The best way to avoid cyberbullying, Haase told students, is to ask permission before posting something online. Doing so makes sure the action is wanted by the other person, she said, and is the best way to avoid getting in trouble.

• Sexting – the exchange of sexually explicit messages, or especially photos, by smartphone or over the internet – is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of youth, but Haase shared a no-nonsense understanding of the issue with students.

From a legal standpoint, sexting can become a dangerous activity because of predators who use social media to target young people. Haase showed the mug shot of one such predator who blackmailed a girl who made the mistake of sharing inappropriate photos with someone she met via Instagram.

The courts have also ruled that photos can be child pornography even if they are exchanged between two minors, or even an unshared photo on a cellphone can still count as possession of child pornography. Deleting a photo can be considered destruction of evidence, too, and doesn’t necessarily remove the photo from the device or the cloud if it was shared over the internet.

Haase told students that if they receive an unwanted photo, they need to make sure a trusted adult knows about the situation and that the photo was not wanted and was deleted. They also need to tell the person who sent it that it was not wanted and to not send any further messages. She said the police do need to become involved sometimes depending on the situation.

“If you tell right away, it’s not likely you’ll get in trouble,” Haase said. “If you don’t know somebody in real life, you should not be interacting with them on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Facebook Messenger – anything like that.”

• As far as avoiding trouble in general, Haase recommends using the Grandma Rule: Don’t send anything – or post anything online or otherwise create – you wouldn’t show or tell your grandma.

Haase’s visit was part of an occasional speaker series for parents from the Papillion La Vista Community Schools offered through a Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation. The next installment in the series planned in April.