County Central pilots new app for cybersafety

 page image
Posted on:

School News

Sgt. Tom Rich

Staff and students at County  Central High School in Vulcan are the first in Canada to embrace the STOPit app for mobile devices to report and act on hurtful online texts or photos.

The app was launched Wednesday afternoon with a student assembly followed by a parent information meeting that evening.

Sgt. Tom Rich, a police officer from New Jersey and cyber safety expert with STOPit, spoke at both the parent and student events, encouraging students to protect their information online and stand up for each other by reporting hurtful information online to a trusted adult.

The students, who were encouraged to bring their mobile devices to the launch assembly, were given the school’s unique STOPit code. From there, they could add contact information for trusted adults in their lives, whether parents, other relatives, coaches or teachers.

If students see or receive something online that suggests someone needs help, they can quickly take a screen shot of the troublesome post or text and share them with their trusted adult or County Central High administrators. The app reminds users to capture screenshots or call 911 if what they’re seeing indicates someone needs help immediately.

Reports can be made anonymously or not, and an app update coming soon will also give users opportunity to text back to an anonymous report to seek more information to further their investigation as needed.

Principal Tracy Inaba said the app was brought to her attention by a member of the staff and the school began investigating the app’s use in late January. As the first school in Canada to use the app, the company gave County Central a discount to sign up, and Inaba said the school will be evaluating the effectiveness of the app from now until June 2016.

“It allows bystanders to become the upstanders to say, ‘hey, this is not right,’ ” Inaba said. “It allows them to have a voice.”

The number for the Kids Help Phone is built into the CCHS app should a user be in crisis and need immediate support.

Rich led students through a long list of apps used to share and communicate and peppered his talk with questions and statistics about the photos and text message shared instantaneously by users every day.

“Texting is changing the way we deal with each other,” Rich said. Canadians send 83 billion text messages a month. On Instagram, there are 1.6 million photos shared each Sunday using the hashtag #SelfieSunday, another 1.4 million are tagged #TBT for Throwback Thursdays. By sharing those photos, users can gain traffic to their sites, but they can also gain unwanted attention from strangers anywhere else on the globe.

Users can also unwittingly give predators details about their lives, including the addresses of the places they often frequent such as home, work and school. The apps share locations without many users realizing it.

As for apps promising that photos and messages will be short-lived, erasing themselves after the intended audience receives them, Rich warned students not to be fooled. The original message might be deleted, but a screenshot can last forever and be shared repeatedly.

A police officer for two decades, Rich said law enforcement can access user information from the social network sites, so the things users think will be kept secret aren’t always.

“Remember, think before you post,” he said.

Rich said the biggest advantage of the app is it empowers students to take action when hurtful images or posts online can otherwise leave them feeling helpless. The app is also a way for them to wrap their arms around kids who are in crisis.

He encouraged parents to start having conversations when children are young and keep those conversations going until young people have the maturity and self-confidence to manage their digital lives. The father of two says he’s constantly talking with his kids about what their friends do online.