If you wouldn’t do it offline, don’t do it online.
That simple bit of advice was given to Culver Academies students Wednesday afternoon by attorney C.L. Lindsay. Lindsay is the founder of the Coalition for Student & Academic Rights (CO-STAR), a national student rights organization that helps thousands of college students with their legal problems, free of charge, every year. He is the author of the “College Student’s Guide to the Law.”
Lindsay’s advice was very basic: If it is illegal offline, it is illegal online. If you wouldn’t do it offline, don’t do it online. If you do something stupid, don’t post photos of it on Instagram. And, if you send the photo to someone, they officially own it.
“It’s like posting 8x10s all over campus,” he said.
Those photos will come back to haunt you when you apply to colleges, for scholarships, or begin looking for jobs, he said. The vast majority of employers are checking potential employee’s social media sites looking for red flags.
“The best advice I can give you is just don’t do it.”
Sexting is another concern for students, he said. Fifty-six percent of people answering one survey said they had participated in sexting. Sixty-two percent of those had received a nude photo. Most of those surveyed had done that before they were 18 years old. That can cause legal problems.
In Minnesota, it resulted in a 14-year-old girl being changed with distributing pornography because she sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, who shared it with his friends. The boys were not charged and felony charges were eventually dropped against the girl, he said. But it took eight months to clear the case even after the judge said was wrong.
Lindsay said most cases like this result in probation with community service. But, he added, a condition of probation was the students cannot own or possess a cell phone for a year. He smiled and acknowledged the gasp from some of the students after that comment.
Lindsay also told the students about an angry high school boy who sent a topless photo of his ex-girlfriend to nearly every other student in school. The embarrassment and shaming by her classmates caused her to commit suicide, he said.
In another case, a male college student at Southern Utah committed suicide after he sent a nude photo to a “girl” he had met on Facebook. It turned out to be an off-shore extortion ring that demanded money. After giving the group all the money he had, they demand more. He also committed suicide, seeing no other way out. It turned out the ring was probably based in the Philippines and had 24 other victims, Lindsay said.
He also said dating apps have been tied to sexual assaults. The FBI has released figures that show 1-in-10 assault cases can be tied to online dating apps, and that women, in particular, should take extra precautions when meeting someone through them.
When it comes to online privacy, he said don’t believe the app’s assurances that it is safe. There are already hackers finding ways to break through the latest security wall. The best thing to do is set your phones on the highest security settings, he said, and delete anything you don’t want other people to see. Also, remember, the rules regarding cell phones on private colleges and schools is much different that public places.
Lindsay also told students be ready to help those people who cannot help themselves, citing examples in security camera footage from one college where people could have helped the incapacitated victim or called authorities.
When someone is in a dangerous situation, notify authorities. There are also bystander training techniques a person can use to diffuse the situation – like separating the victim from the attacker, distracting the attacker, or delaying them from leaving – without putting yourself in harm’s way, he said.
“Trust your instincts,” Lindsay said, and act sooner rather than later.