Students who send explicit photos on their cell phones wouldn’t have to be branded as sex offenders, if a new curriculum developed by Yahoo! Inc. catches on.
Technology offenses such as cyber bulling and sexting can carry serious emotional and legal consequences. In many states, the laws haven’t kept up with technology, and students who send or receive explicit photos of themselves or others can be charged with trafficking in child pornography.
The one-hour proactive version of the course, usually presented at PTA meetings or school assemblies, teaches the importance of building positive online reputations and stopping cyber bullying. The three-hour, discussion-based reactive version of the course covers the same topics in more depth and requires teens to reflect on their online habits.
If teens are cited by the police for a digital offense, the reactive course provides an “opportunity to take the infraction off their record,” much like driver re-education after a minor traffic violation, said Connie Chung, policy manager at Yahoo! Trust and Safety.
“We’re excited about that happening, because we see it as a win-win situation,” said Chung. Offenders are “appropriately punished while being educated instead of reprimanded.”
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Holly Lawrence, an officer of the Sunnyvale, Calif., Department of Public Safety, first conceived of the program when she began working in schools as a neighborhood resource officer. In her first week, she received a case about kids sending naked pictures to each other and discovered a lack of clear protocol for citing the young tech offenders.
“Nobody wanted to deal with it … [because] nobody wanted these kids to be sex offenders,” Lawrence said, referring to the possibility in some states for a minor to face criminal charges if caught electronically communicating indecent material—that is, sexting.
Not content to ignore the issue, she saw an opportunity to “educate and rehabilitate” kids on “good digital citizenship,” Lawrence said.
After an extensive search, she discovered that while a few other nonprofits had developed digital safety education programs, the existing programs “didn’t seem like a good fit to have law enforcement to present,” because they tended to be game-based.
With an idea to develop a digital safety course “of a more serious nature,” Lawrence said she approached Yahoo!’s Trust and Safety team, a nonprofit branch of the Yahoo! online conglomerate headquartered in Sunnyvale.