Former officer to Groton students: be smart about online choices

Groton — When Scott Driscoll addresses an auditorium of high school students about internet safety, he starts by saying he is not there to lecture his audience. Rather, as the title of his presentation at Fitch High School on Thursday stated, he wants to "empower smart online choices."

He does this work because he's seen a lot.

"For five years with the FBI, I was a 13-year-old girl on the internet," he explained, to laughter from the ninth- and 12th-graders gathered for the second of two presentations.

This is Driscoll's first time working with Fitch, but he said he has given more than 940 presentations in Connecticut since founding Internet Safety Concepts in 2007, after working in law enforcement for almost 20 years.

Fitch held internet safety professional development for teachers last week, and on Thursday, there were two sessions for students during the day and one for parents in the evening.

Driscoll explained that the focus for parents is on how various apps work, but since this is something their kids know already, the emphasis for students is on how they're using the apps.

"We wanted to have the teachers, the students [and] the parents so we can have conversations around it," said the dean of students, Adam Diskin, who spearheaded the effort to bring in Driscoll.

Addressing high-schoolers on Thursday, Driscoll discussed sexting, cyber-bullying, the importance of using professional and appropriate email addresses, push notifications and GPS settings on apps, and anonymous apps.

He referenced Instagram, Snapchat, After School, Whisper and Kik. (Driscoll has learned about changing social media usage over the years, noting that a sophomore informed him after a prior program that Facebook is "the grandparents' network.")

Driscoll shared numerous anecdotes to get his points across.

There was the time he looked up a law enforcement job candidate's old email address and found a Tumblr post advising people how to avoid steroids showing up on a test.

There was the time a middle-school student got himself in hot water for posting a derogatory comment on Instagram about one of the 2016 presidential candidates.

There was the time a 14-year-old girl sent a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend, only to have him forward the picture to others after a nasty breakup. The picture ended up on a pornographic site in Singapore. Now, 10 years after she took the picture, Driscoll Googled the girl's name and found the picture on the bottom of the first page.

"This case changed me, because I'm sitting next to a 14-year-old girl who made a mistake and she's crying hysterically," Driscoll said of working with her a decade ago.

He also talked about child pornography laws and laid out two options for anyone receiving such a photo: Delete it immediately or turn it over to law enforcement.

Fitch freshman Arizona Johnson cited information about laws as something new she learned from the presentation. She felt the presentation was different from usual internet safety presentations in that it showed more stories.

Seniors Isaac Cuascut and Jordan Grimm both felt they didn't learn much that was new to them but said the program accurately reflected the apps and sites students use.

Grimm added, "I don't know why they're talking about (online) footprints now. There's nothing we can really do about it." He wishes that internet safety were discussed more in middle school.

Driscoll had noted toward the beginning of his presentation, "Your digital footprint that you did six, seven years ago can impact you today." For example, the girl who informed him that Facebook is for grandparents doesn't use the site anymore but never deactivated her page, he said.

Grimm said his takeaway from the talk was, "Just stay safe, I guess. Don't be stupid and don't send anything you're going to regret."

e.moser@theday.com

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