With the recent news about several nude photos of Shrewsbury High School girls being posted on the internet, parents are again reminded of the dangers that lurk in the electronic world of today.
As with many towns, Northborough's police department is aware of the potential problem, and have dealt with cases of inappropriate Internet behavior (some that have led to arrests).
The department also proactively addresses the concern along with the schools. With the assistance of the District Attorney's office, and in collaboration with the schools, "internet safety nights" are scheduled every school year.
"I have been present at these safety nights and usually chime in on local trends and problems involving kids and the internet," said Det. Sgt. Brian Griffin of the Northborough police.
Tom Mead, principal of Algonquin Regional High School, said the school spends time talking with students about the responsible uses of social media. They are reminded, for instance, that colleges and universities screen applicants on social media sites, "and may retract acceptance for inappropriate pictures or gestures or statements that are profane, or derogatory, or in violation of another person’s civil rights."
Every student at Algonquin is required to take Computer Essentials, an introductory course that includes advice and examples of abuses and misuses of social media, and the consequences of that abuse.
"I think our students understand this," said Mead. "But they still can make mistakes. It was not a good day for Shrewsbury, but that can happen anywhere, at anytime. It is not regarded as a 'threat.' Rather, it is regarded as a poor decision. And that decision can be addressed, examined, and corrected, perhaps. It is worth the try."
Police have dealt with cases of inappropriate Internet behavior, and incidents are on the rise—not just in the schools, but involving students in those schools and strangers who lurk in cyberspace.
"Over the past couple of years I would say we have seen an increase in these type of crimes involving some sort of inappropriate pictures, text, or video being sent or received from one of our youths via a computer or cell phone," said Griffin. "We are probably no different than any other community when it comes to these types of crimes. A couple of years ago it was more or less computer related issues that we would deal with especially amongst our youth, but now with cell phones and the capabilities and technology within a cell phone, it is safe to say it is the cell phone in which we are seeing more problems."
Arrests have been made in Northborough that have involved cases that originated because of online communication between a child and a stranger, added Griffin.
"It is really scary to think about some of the complete strangers that our youth may be communicating with," said Griffin. " and the stranger is much older than the youth."
When police become aware of inappropriate communication between a Northborough youth and a stranger, it is investigated "like any other reportable crime." Some of these cases, however, have roadblocks because the online profile of the person maybe fabricated, added Griffin.
"However we will work hard to attempt to locate the source," said Griffin. "We will subpoena phone records, IP addresses, etc, to try and locate where the source is coming from and hopefully by whom. We encourage parents of children or even the youth themselves that if they become a victim to some sort of inappropriate communication online or through the cell phone then they should save all the possible information from the source and report the matter to the police."