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Officials: Blogs pose dangers to students

For today’s teenagers, technology is another gateway to socialinteraction. However, throughout the nation and throughoutMississippi, young people are unaware that technology may also be agateway to danger.

Teenagers in Brookhaven and Lincoln County are logging on,chatting, dating, and arguing with each other online at increasingrates. And they are using online Web logs, or “blogs” to keep theirfriends up to date on their latest interests, ideas andhobbies.

These online, personalized, bulletin bords allow students topost often very personal information about themselves online. Asarea youth log onto “blogs,” such as MySpace.com, they unknowingly,place themselves at risk, school officials said.

“MySpace.com is a social, online, community where you can createyour own space, post pictures, anything you want to, online,” saidPatrick Brown, assistant director of technology for the LincolnCounty School District.

While students make see the site as a “friends network,” Brownwarned of potential dangers.

“They are posting information and making themselves vulnerableto predators,” Brown said.

In response, the LCSD technology department recently released astatement on its We site indicating saying students will no longerbe able to access sites such as MySpace.com while on districtcampuses. The post further warned parents of Internet dangers andencouraged guardians to closely monitor their children’s Internetuse.

Teenagers are especially vulnerable because they misjudge thescope of online dangers, Brown said.

“They don’t realize that predators may come from all 50 states,”Brown said. “If someone has your name, your photo, and yourlocation, you’re vulnerable. On Myspace.com, you can do a searchand find anybody.”

State officials agreed.

“Kids are definitely online with these sites. And they aredefinitely accessible,” said Jean Vaughn, who works in theCybercrimes division in the Mississippi Attorney General’sOffice.

Because blog sites commonly have e-mail and other contactinformation, youth often develop online relationships with otherswho respond to their blog. This is practice is particularlydangerous, Vaughn said.

“They don’t know who they are talking to,” Vaughn said.

Predators lie, Vaughn said, and online they are pretending to beteenagers. After all, it is not difficult to find out the interestsof teenagers.

One needs only to log on and read whatever children are postingabout themselves. Simply put, the more a child posts aboutthemselves, the more vulnerable they become.

“It is just like a bulletin board to the world,” Vaughnsaid.

The district’s recent prohibition of on-campus blogging is partof an ongoing effort to protect children while at school, Brownsaid.

“The Mississippi Department of Education provides statewidefilters on our online network,” Brown said.

The filter has pre-set blocks to harmful Web sites. Systemadministrators can also adjust the filters to prevent “anythingthat would prevent a student from doing his work,” Brown said.

One aspect of online communication which is preventing youthfrom school work is online conflict.

“Students start talking about each other on line and fightsincrease. With online conflict, we can’t catch it in time becausewe can’t see it,” Brown said.

Administrators in the Brookhaven School District, also facedwith classroom conflict caused by online blogging, are takingsimilar measures.

Brookhaven Schools have recently banned SignBook.com.Superintendent Lea Barrett said SignBook.com is “basically a slambook.

“Students post pictures of themselves and their classmatesrespond with insulting messages,” she said.

From an educational standpoint, Brown was dismissive of blogsaltogether.

“There really is no educational value in blogs at this point,”Brown said.

While officials are taking steps to limits students’ access toblogs at school, the action does not stop the activity whilestudents are at home.

Vaughn encouraged students to be careful when visiting onlinesites. She pointed out once information is online, it is thereforever.

“Once they put it out there, they’re accessible,” Vaughnsaid.

Lincoln County School administrators recognize each student’sright to free speech. However, the importance of parentalmonitoring is becoming extremely apparent, school officialssaid.