‘Nothing you put on social media is private’
Franklin County Bar Association Law Day takes up social media and privacy
Sgt. Michael Hill, commander of the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
Jamie Wynkoop-Morrison, owner of Small World Computing and Networking
Bruce Miller, professor of law at Western New England University
Corey Carvalho, associate director of the University of Massachusetts Student Legal Services Office
GREENFIELD — Panelists at a Law Day event at Greenfield Community College on Thursday made their point crystal clear to local high school students in attendance: Nothing you post on social media is private.
“If you’re on the Internet and you have at least one friend (on Facebook or other social media outlets) ... your privacy rights are pretty much out the window,” said State Police Sgt. Michael Hill, who is commander of the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
At the Franklin County Bar Association’s annual event, Hill told a room full of students — including 17 from Greenfield and the entire Academy at Charlemont — that any information sent from computers or phones can easily be saved, tracked and even used to cyberbully or harass somebody.
That’s because when someone deletes a file on their computer or phone, the person isn’t really getting rid of it but instead removing the path to that data, explained Jamie Wynkoop-Morrison, who owns the locally based Small World Computer and Networking.
Deleting something once it gets online is even harder to accomplish, he said, because search engines like Google index and save everything. A charged comment on a politician’s Facebook page could theoretically show up when an employer or college searches a person’s name, he said.
Corey Carvalho, associate director of the University of Massachusetts Student Legal Services Office, said the first thing he asks students preparing for jobs is, “Will you pass your Google interview?”
The legal services team, which represents students in civil cases, will often turn to the Internet to try to find as much as they can about the party they’ll be facing across the courtroom. Social media has become a “treasure trove” of information, said Carvalho, who advises his clients to immediately cease their activity on these networks until a case is settled.
And while all this may seem like it’s a violation of an American’s rights, there’s nothing in the Constitution that explicitly protects a person’s privacy, said Bruce Miller, a professor of law at Western New England University.
Courts have ruled through the years that protections against improper search and seizure don’t apply when a person understands that something isn’t private, he said. The panelists pointed out that many social media outlets’ terms of conditions explicitly outline that organizations like Facebook have the right to share any and all information.
The Franklin County Bar Association’s annual Law Day event focuses on a different theme every year, said President Dave DeHerdt. This year’s event was intentionally scheduled during the day so that students could attend and hear about good social media practices, he said.
Both District Attorney David Sullivan and Assistant District Attorney Christine Tetreault spoke adamantly about the danger of “sexting,” a popular practice where young people send sexually explicit messages or photos to one another. While apps like Snapchat purport to delete images after a few seconds, they stressed that anything that’s sent out once could potentially be shared forever or used for exploitation and blackmail.
Stephanie Purington, academic dean at the Academy at Charlemont, said the grade 7-12 school’s approximately 95 students seemed inspired to change some of their online ways.
“This was a way for them to hear from experts in the field on privacy rights,” she said, “not that we want to scare them, but really inform them about the realities of the lack of privacy rights now in social media.”
Angela Mass, who advises the Greenfield High School Student Council and teaches a social justice class, took 17 students to the event. The topic is right in line with what students are learning in school, she said.
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