Before you send a text, post a photo, tweet, or write a status update online, attorney C.L. Lindsay warns students to think “Would I do that offline?” If you wouldn’t do in the real world, you shouldn’t do it online either, he told Culver Academies students.
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. And, if you do something stupid, don’t post photos of it online.
Downloading music and movies without paying for them is illegal. It is similar to walking into a store and “stuffing a DVD down your pants.”
Buying term papers online is plagiarism and you will either get caught because “there is no such thing as a custom paper” or the company selling the paper will take advantage of you because you can’t complain about plagiarizing someone else’s work and risk getting kicked out of school.
Most professors and colleges have safeguards now to halt plagiarism, including checking the paper against others in a special database that include papers going back as far as 1975.
Sexting can cause major problems, especially when one person is over 18 and the other is not. An 18-year-old boy in Muncie, Ind., must now register as a sex offender for the rest of his life because he had naked photos of his 15-year-old girlfriend on his phone.
Trust your gut, Lindsay said. You’re smarter than you think.
Lindsay said don’t think Snapchat is the answer, either. There are currently 30 programs that have already found a way around the app and more will be coming. Yet 65 percent of teens surveyed say they have sent online photos to a person they have never met.
Freedom of Speech has been used as a defense in online bullying, stalking, or harassment, but if there is a “reasonable fear of harm” in the victim’s mind, action can be taken. Lindsay said people receiving threatening messages should keep them to show to the police or campus authorities. “Don’t respond,” he said, “document. If there is a hint of a threat, contact law enforcement.”
When it comes to handling school disciplinary issues, Lindsay said most students believe that schools follow the same standard of proof as criminal or civil courts. However, schools have a much lower standard. That standard is “more likely than not” that the student committed the offense. He explained that equates to just 51 percent. He said all students should read the student handbook so they know what the standards are.
Lindsay said high school and college students also must watch what they post on social media. Privacy settings should be on the highest level. There should be no photos of you breaking a rule or the law. Don’t join any “stupid groups.” And check your friends’ pages to see if they have any compromising photos that include you.
The simple fact is that 44 percent of all employers do online searches of prospective employees; 75 percent of recruiting services do online checks; and 31 percent of college admissions offices do online checks (and they find negative details on 30 percent of the applicants), he said.
That is why students should choose their user names carefully, eliminate any compromising photos, and watch their opinions on politics, religion, and employers. And, remember, once it is online, it is out in cyberspace “forever,” he said.
“Trust your gut,” Lindsay said. “You’re smarter than you think.”