A weekend interview with ...
... Bonnie Lang, president of Kids Come First, Florida chapter. Lang, based in Polk County, makes frequent presentations on internet safety for schools, and also advises law enforcement agencies on the topic. She talked about internet education with reporter Jeff Solochek the day after the Times published a story about how some Pasco middle school students accessed pornography through a MySpace friend of their school resource officer. Check the end for helpful links.
Tell me a little bit about your concerns about the story you saw about Officer Nohejl.
I think the facts were a little bit skewed. What you have to understand is, if we have a MySpace page, we can't control what is posted on a friend's page. It is our responsibility to maintain what is on our page. It is our responsibility to be aware of who we add. But once we add them, we cannot tell when a page has been changed. We cannot tell when something has been added.
So if somebody is going there and looking at these pages, there is no way of knowing what is there?
Once you add someone as a friend, unless you continually check their page every day, you assume that page is going to stay the same.
So what is the value of adding friends who, in this instance, are not students of the school that the page is supposed to be reaching?
What if you have a parent who has a child? What if you have a parent who has a friend who has a child? And that child gets in trouble. They say, "I know where you can turn to. I have a friend on my page." They still have access to that friend.
And so the value of having an officer have a MySpace page is what?
It acts as a deterrent to online predators. Because if you have two children sitting there, and one has a law enforcement official on their page and one does not, who do you think a predator is more likely to contact? A predator is more likely to contact a child who does not have a police officer on their page. You've just added a layer of protection to yourself.
So the school resource officers in doing this are helping kids in their school?
Exactly. They're helping any child who adds them as a friend. It doesn't necessarily have to be someone in their school. At least they have someone that they can turn to that is a legitimate officer.
But there are flaws in the system, if somebody who is doing something like this has the opportunity to get hacked, or spammed, or something, and suddenly winds up with items on there that sometimes they're trying to protect the kids from.
What system is flawless? There is no system that is flawless. And it's the internet. The internet is not flawless. You're going to have instances here and there. You're going to have problems. Nothing is perfect. Why should a computer be perfect?
But the answer then is not for the law enforcement to go away, is it?
Oh, absolutely not. Wherever the predators are, that's where law enforcement needs to be. That's where we need to be. Because if we go away, predators have complete reign over anything they want to do. At least we're there. With us being there, we're starting to create detours on the internet. And eventually some of those detours start running into dead ends. We start closing off avenues where these predators can reach our children. And if that means law enforcement is on MySpace, or any other site, then so be it.
You said you go and do presentations at schools about internet safety at schools. What is the key issue, or the key item, that you try to get across to the teachers?
You have a very powerful weapon, and that is your voice. It is OK to speak up. Because I guarantee you 100 percent that if you have a predator that is talking to you, they are also talking to other children. You are not the only one. There are kids who have not only been victimized, they have lost their lives. I could tell you story after story of children who are dead because of online predators. Speak up.
So this is an education issue that every adult has the opportunity to impart to children.
Exactly. And if speaking up means that you click on your mouse on a law enforcement page and say, I need help, then so be it.
Are there specific places, web sites or hot lines that you recommend to kids or teachers who want to know more about this?
CyberTipline is a wonderful place, at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Netsmartz.org is a very good tool for teachers and parents. And our web site as well, kidscomefirstonline.org. And if you go to that page there is Project LE Friends on there. What we did was we went through every law enforcement page we could find on MySpace and we personally called them to verify it was a legitimate site. The ones that were, we linked them, so kids will have a safe place to turn to. So you know there is going to be a cop behind the monitor. Add them as a friend.