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FBI agent discusses cyber safety to students

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 11:32 p.m.
Students at Brentwood Middle School raise their hands and ask questions of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations Pittsburgh Branch, who presented information on cyber and technology safety at an assembly on Oct. 18. Stephanie Hacke | The South Hills Record
A slideshow presentation, along with videos and cartoons, shared with Brentwood Middle School students during an assembly on Oct. 18 helped them be aware of the dangers of the Internet and technology. Stephanie Hacke | The South Hills Record

Jordan Naylor said she spends about four hours a day browsing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Brentwood Middle School eighth-grade student isn't alone. She and her classmates use the social-networking sites, mostly from their cell phones, while they interact with friends and get updates on the latest “big events.” But the group of middle-schoolers agreed they will change some of their habits after they recently learned about the potential dangers of the Internet and social media.

“It's real life,” said Jordan, 13, of the hazards that come with posting personal information. “I figured out that it can actually happen.”

FBI special agent Tanya Evanina and postal inspector Karen Yoakum, both of the Pittsburgh branch, spoke to nearly 265 Brentwood Middle School students at an Oct. 18 assembly about ways youths can stay safe when using the technology.

Online gaming, texting, downloading music and watching YouTube videos all can be fun, but there are pitfalls as well, Evanina said.

Posting information about where a student lives, what school he or she attends or even a photo that gives away too many details about a person's life can help a predator find a student, the agents said.

Students were told to be careful with what they post online or photos they send to each other.

“You never know who's going to get it,” Evanina said. “Once you post something, you'll never get it back.”

The Brentwood students watched cartoons and videos about the woes of modern technology and learned about the dangers of “sexting,” or texting a picture of someone who is not fully clothed. They also learned about cyber bullying and how to handle online pressures.

Brentwood eighth-grader Dana Frey, 13, said the message that stuck with her was this: Victims of online bullying or cyber crimes can be survivors.

“They weren't just victims,” she said.

Students who could be the victims of cyber-bullying crimes also should be comforted to know “they're not alone,” Jordan said.

Brentwood Middle School students said they began using social media before entering sixth grade but know many younger children today who have Facebook and Twitter accounts.

And cyber crimes are becoming more common.

“This is something that happens more than anybody realizes,” Brentwood Borough School District school resource officer Timothy Butler said.

Last school year, FBI officials spoke with teachers during an in-service day to keep them current on what could be going on in their students' world, Brentwood Middle School Principal David Radcliffe said.

Training teachers about the potential dangers of technology is important, school officials said.

“You teach the kids that you want them to trust people, but you also have to tell them about these things,” Brentwood Middle School teacher Lynne Golvash said.

The message, also, was important for students to hear.

“Sometimes they need to hear it from people other than their parents and teachers,” Radcliffe said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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