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Students are Shocked at Receiving the Same Graphic Image

Shocked Girl

One afternoon, in the high school study hall where I work, several students’ phones began buzzing at the exact same time. Initially everyone thought it was an Amber Alert, but then they were surprised to see texts and phone calls from the same out-of-state “unknown number.” In a matter of minutes, several students received a text message that included a graphic sexual image.

The students immediately shared their shock and discomfort with a teacher. School administration took quick action and notified the authorities, who opened an investigation into the incident. It was soon discovered that one person had connected their entire friends and family contact group (which included most of the students in the room) using a popular mobile app for peer-to-peer money transfers and payments.

Unfortunately, incidents like this are not unusual in a high school, but because of the nature of the small school where I work, it was immediately evident that everyone was being targeted by the same individual(s)....but why? And how?

Lessons Learned and Revisited

Many of the students who got this image had fortunately received Cyber Civics lessons in middle school. So this incident, while disturbing, also offered an opportunity to revisit some of the key things they had learned. I was able to review the following with them soon afterwards:

Lesson 1: There are laws in place to protect minors in the digital landscape

The students remembered that there are legitimate, legal steps that can and should be taken when incidents like this one happen. Telling a trusted adult about harassment or anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe is essential in a situation like this.

Lesson 2: Students knew what to do when receiving a graphic image

In 8th grade, students learned a lot about sexting and its legal implications. It was not surprising, but also very amazing, how much the students in this spam situation remembered about their sexting lessons which had occurred as long as one to four years before! They remembered that it is ‘best to delete the image right away’ in a sexting incident between minors because having nude or semi-nude images of a minor on one’s device can be considered possession of child pornography. While this is the correct response for a sexting incident, it was more appropriate in this incident (see “Lesson 1") to tell a trusted adult first. Education about sexting is critical, and I’m so grateful the students have more context!

Lesson 3: Not only do we need to be protective of our own information and what we share online, but we also need to protect our friends and family

This data breach meant that not only was the sender’s information compromised (and actually their parents were compromised, since users are required to be 18 years old to use the platform!), but so were all of their contacts. This meant many of the students in the room. YIKES! Here are their comments about this:

  • “Hey, I never gave you permission to share my info with X-online-money-exchange-platform!”

  • “What gives you the right to decide if X company gets to know who I am and what my number is…also I think you have my birthday in my contact card!”

  • Isn’t it illegal for somebody to give a company other people’s information?

In the end, this unfortunate event was a great catalyst for a discussion about privacy and asking friends for permission to share their personal information. We were also able to revisit topics surrounding online harassment and sexting. Because the school was seeped into the culture of Cyber Civics, these important, foundational conversations were already taking place. And as the standard of communication around these topics was already living in both the student and parent body, we were able to quickly jump into the learning aspects of these important life lessons.

Does your school teach Cyber Civics, the comprehensive middle school digital literacy curriculum? If not, reach out to us to learn more about how we support students, teachers, and administrators through education, well-founded research, and critical conversations.

Soni Albright is the Admissions Director at Shining Mountain Waldorf School, and has been a Cyber Civics teacher and Media Literacy Educator for parents and students over the last 9 years. She lives and works in Boulder, CO with her husband and their four Digital Citizens. Don't miss our next Cyberwise Chat on 1/26 at noon PST where Soni will be our guest!

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