GETTING SCHOOLED ON CYBERBULLYING

cyberbully1Kevin Clark, who runs Monmouth County’s computer crimes unit, gave a presentation on computer safety at Frank Talk on Saturday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The message Kevin Clark wants to deliver can’t be spread fast enough.

“Think before you click,” says Clark, director of the Monmouth County prosecutor’s computer crimes unit.

On the ‘duh’ scale, Clark’s maxim may be high up there. But when you get into the online world, the advice is still news to a lot of people, especially children and teenagers, he said.

That’s why Clark used the phrase several times throughout his presentation about cyberbullying and Internet safety to a small group of Red Bank dignitaries (and one curious teacher) on Saturday, with the goal of raising awareness to a new-ish brand of schoolyard teasing that has risen to new, dangerous heights in recent years.

Clark’s presentation was full of graphic examples of cyberbullying, and referenced terms and devices some in the intimate room of the West Side’s arts and culture bistro, Frank Talk, weren’t familiar with.

“I’m sorry,” said councilwoman Kathy Horgan. “What’s an Xbox?”

Clark talked about how a seemingly innocent exchange via cell phone between a boyfriend and girlfriend can end up on a Russian porno site. He spoke about Ryan Halligan, a 13-year-old who killed himself over school bullying.

“What happens in the online world has real world consequences,” Clark warned.

No longer are we dealing with whispers in the hallway or notes passed around the classroom. Teasing has been taken to a new, more dangerous and often anonymous, level, with the help of the Internet and ever-evolving gizmos like iPods, XBoxs and cell phones, Clark said.

The kicker of it, he said, is that most children — and some adults, for that matter — don’t understand that. He said they feel a sense of anonymity online that provides a shield, where they can lambaste, point fingers and generally spew vitriol with no accountability.

But then when they’re told that, no, their actions online can be traced by guys like him, they wake up a little bit and back off.

It takes that education, though, to get through to people, he said. That, and for people who witness it not to just let it happen, be it parents or friends.

“This type of cruelty can only exist when people aren’t held accountable,” Clark said.

In Red Bank schools, superintendent Laura Morana said her staff takes mandatory training on the topic, and her the district held two presentations this school year for students to raise their awareness of the consequences of their actions online.

There haven’t been any serious cases of cyberbullying within the district, she said.

“They quickly realize there’s very serious consequences,” Morana said.

Clark’s visit was the first community-based event happening throughout the summer leading up to Red Bank’s participation in the National Night Out, an established community program that promotes “neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships in our fight for a safer nation,” according to the website.

Red Bank’s National Night Out will begin at 6p, August 3, at borough hall. It will include a neighborhood walk and police presentation that will end up back at borough hall for a cook out.

The next event leading up to the night will be a trash clean up at 10a on July 17 at borough hall.