Jun 18, 2015 9:03 AM
Criminal researchers versus investigators. Our NH1 News investigation, Predator Playbook, is fueling serious, professional debate over the safety of your kids online.
The issue: Is it dangerous for a school website to host pictures of students with their names?
Look at the NH1 News Facebook page, and you’ll see parents, viewers passionately divided on whether these pictures of Beaver Meadow Elementary students posted on an open school Facebook page pose a danger to those kids.
Midge: “Just as long as their addresses aren’t on there.”
Alexandra: “Very dangerous world out there with predators …”
Frank: “People are overreacting …”
Jimmy: “Creating controversies where there are none.”
The experts - researchers who study crimes against children and the detectives who investigate the actual crimes - are also divided on this issue.
David Finkelhor is the Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
“I’ve been studying child molesters since 1978 and have done a lot of studies about internet predators,” he said.
He’s convinced that predators, “aren’t interested in elementary age school kids.”
I asked him if it’s safe to post personal information of children online.
Finkelhor’s response: “I think it is fine to put kids’ pictures up to identify them.” He said predators aren't searching the web, "like an LL Bean catalog."
Veteran Detective Mark Dumas with the Computer Crimes Division of the Concord Police Department disagrees - strongly. He says, "[Predators] go where the kids are. Kids are a target audience. That's where they troll, that's where they play, and that's where they have their fun."
He’s worked with the New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Task Force - the first in the nation - for a decade.
“We have literally hundreds upon hundreds of cases we’ve investigated in the last decade,” Dumas said. “You would not have this many law enforcement agencies partnered together, the federal, state and then local levels, working in task forces on this problem, if there wasn’t a problem.”
I asked him if it’s safe to post personal information of children online. His response: “That is a horribly unsafe practice.”
He added, “You don’t want to create that opportunity and that’s what you’re doing when you’re publishing that child’s name, their school, their location - it just creates opportunities you don’t want to exist. You never want a child, or that part of society that’s least able to defend themselves, to be in a position where they can be victimized.”
It’s been more than two weeks since I first informed Interim Principal Melissa Scott about the website.
She wouldn’t answer questions then and still won’t discuss the issue.
Superintendent Chris Rath would only allow IT Director Pam McLeod to respond.
During a phone interview, McLeod said the page is run by the PTO - parent teacher organization - not the school.
McLeod isn’t concerned about the site.
“Parents are on social media, and I think parents probably appreciate being able to see what’s happening in student activities,” McLeod said.
Here's what she said when I asked her if she thought the page should become a password protected group page: “It’s certainly something worth discussing.”
We reached out to the PTO. As soon as we hear from them, we’ll post their response.
In the meantime, since we aired Predator Playbook on NH1 News on Tuesday, most of the pictures with the names have been taken down on that Facebook page.
Despite the controversy, it appears parents chose to be safe, rather than potentially sorry.
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