Carnegie Mellon to offer online safety program

Ninety percent of children surveyed said they use some form of online social networking.
Ninety percent of children surveyed said they use some form of online social networking.

Carnegie Mellon University will use a $20,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation to create and distribute internet safety advice to faculty, teachers, and students in K-12 schools and on college campuses.

The university’s internet safety lessons can be found on its Information Networking Institute web site, which also includes tools such as an encyclopedia of hundreds of web terms.

The web-based tools will be sampled at St. Bede School in Pennsylvania, the university announced Jan. 25.

Carnegie Mellon technology officials said the Verizon grant would prove valuable in the school’s effort to educate teachers and their students as internet use becomes ubiquitous at every level of education.

“This grant will help both students and parents alike understand the risks associated with online activities, like the viruses spread over instant messaging and the bullying that takes place in unsupervised chat rooms,” said Dena Haritos Tsamitis, director of the Information Networking Institute and director of education, training, and outreach for Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab, one of the country’s most prominent cyber-security education centers.

More than 50 Carnegie Mellon faculty members and 130 graduate students work at CyLab, which is publicly and privately funded.

Nine out of 10 American children use some form of web-based social networking, and 34 percent of parents are aware of the inherent security risks of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, according to a recent survey released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

A December report published by Pew showed that 4 percent of teenage respondents said they have sent “sexts,” or text messages showing nude or partially nude images. Fifteen percent of teenagers said they have received a sext from someone they know.

“Teens explained to us how sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist and author of the report, “Teens and Sexting.” “These images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other. And they are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun.”

Pew researchers interviewed 800 students ages 12 to 18 in three U.S. cities last fall, according to the organization’s web site.

William Carnahan, vice president of external affairs at Verizon Pennsylvania, said the company wanted to contribute to the growing body of research and technological tools used by schools to show students how to protect their personal information online and avoid viruses and malware that could destroy a computer’s hard drive.

“Our children are growing up in a digital world. It is how they communicate, learn, and share ideas,” Carnahan said. “Online technology has had a tremendous impact on our society, and its role will continue to grow with further advances.”