by Airman 1st Class Brittain Crolley
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
12/4/2013 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- With
advances in technology over the past decade, social media and other
forms of electronic communication have skyrocketed, allowing people from
all corners of the world to connect instantaneously. It may seem safe
and harmless, but do you know who your children are talking to?
According to information from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, half of
all teenagers log on to a social media site more than once a day and
more than 75 percent own a cell phone. Although technology has made
communication easier, these means of faceless interactions have also
made children easier targets for sexual predators and cyber harassers.
To help combat these virtual threats, representatives from the sheriff's
department and district attorney's office held a seminar here to
promote awareness of the possible dangers and exploitation opportunities
facing today's youth, Nov. 21, 2013.
"Social media is not going anywhere," said Wayne County assistant
district attorney Terry Light. "Every day brings in a wave of new
threats. We have to make sure we address these threats in order to
During the seminar, Light and police Lt. Thomas Flores discussed the
negative impacts of online networking, including sexting, cyber bullying
and exposure to inappropriate content.
Sexting is defined as the act of sending sexually explicit messages,
semi-nude or nude photos using cellular messaging features. According to
Flores, more than 20 percent of teens have sent a nude photo of
themselves electronically. The teen trend can have many repercussions
that most people aren't aware of.
"There is a lot of stuff out there that I didn't even know about," said
Airman 1st Class Lauren Dennis, 4th Medical Operations Squadron
childcare provider. "It's leading to depression and suicide and it's
There is also a legal issue for possessing and distributing these images
if the subject of the photo is a minor. According to federal law,
persons convicted of child pornography or exploitation can be sentenced
to a maximum of 20 years in prison and required to register as a sex
"Once the picture is out there, it's out there forever," Flores
described. "There's no getting it back. You may trust the person you're
sending it to, but you never know what they're going to do with it in
Flores said more than 15 percent of males distribute explicit images of their girlfriends when they break up.
In some extreme cases, images have been sent school-wide, to family
members of the victim and virally across the internet. According to the
guest speakers, this can lead to a different virtual phenomenon - cyber
According to Light, cyber bullying can range anywhere from sending
harassing or threatening comments to photoshopping pictures to spreading
rumors across virtual mediums. As opposed to face-to-face tormenting,
cyber bullying has the tendency to spread faster and reach wider
"It's a real threat facing our youth today," Light explained. "We, as
parents, have to talk to our children to make sure they know the risks
and consequences of social media and internet use as a whole. Awareness
is the most important thing."
Awareness was the keystone of the seminar, hoping to educate parents
about the dangers that await unsuspecting victims in cyberspace.
"I thought the seminar was vital for our children, who sometimes don't
realize the long-range impact to themselves and others, but also for the
parents raising those children," said Kirsten Pettus, wife of Col.
Lamar Pettus, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander and mother of two. "We
have to do all we can to protect our children in this high-speed
environment we live in today."
For more information about the seminar or to find one in your local area, visit www.netsmartz.org.