Guest Speaker Notes Importance of Students’ Digital Footprints

During+his+presentation%2C+Mr.+Guerry+warns+students+that+everything+they+post+online+or+on+social+media+could+become+%22public+and+permanent.%22+He+used+the+lighter+to+compare+using+the+Internet+to+using+fire.+%22Once+we+know+what+fire+does%2C+we+know+how+to+use+it%2C%22+he+said.+%22We+may+get+burned%2C+but+it+only+takes+one+time.+The+Internet+works+the+same+way+-+we+need+to+know+what+it+can+do+before+we+use+it.%22+

Mr. Crisafi

During his presentation, Mr. Guerry warns students that everything they post online or on social media could become “public and permanent.” He used the lighter to compare using the Internet to using fire. “Once we know what fire does, we know how to use it,” he said. “We may get burned, but it only takes one time. The Internet works the same way – we need to know what it can do before we use it.”

Woah there, slow down, be careful with what you post on social media. What you post could actually ruin your reputation or become associated with you for the rest of your life. Cyber safety is an important life skill, and one that’s not taken lightly at The Benjamin School. For the past several years, Mr. Richard Guerry, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cellphone Communication (IROC2) and author of Public and Permanent, a how-to guide detailing the proper use of technology, has spoken to Benjamin middle school students about cyber safety. 

Seventh grader Caroline Groffman watches Mr. Guerry’s Zoom session in Mrs. Oster’s classroom/ (Jonathan )

This year was no different (well, except for the fact that Guerry’s address was virtual as a result of the pandemic). Guerry advised students not to provide their personal information, such as home address or telephone number, to strangers online. He further suggested rejecting invitations from online strangers to meet in person.

According to Dean of Student Mr. Jeffrey Cavallo, a number of infractions in the Middle School are the result of students’ social media engagement, and the hope of the TBS administration is that presenters such as Guerry will help eliminate such infractions or reduce their frequency.

“I would say that the number of technology-related [and] social media-related infractions exponentially increases each year,” said Cavallo. “This is because there are different ways of communicating and new applications, so it certainly increases every year.”

Students also appreciate the importance of Guerry’s message. 

“[Mr. Guerry] helps us make more informed decisions online,” said eighth grader Anthony Viverito. “I think that the students benefit, especially the sixth graders, because they are coming into a new age and just starting to use social media. After they listen and watch the presentation, they will make better choices online because now they have more information.”

Guerry speaks to thousands of students and parents each year about how kids can stay safe while using technology, from gaming online to texting to staying in touch through social media. One of his famous sayings is that anything communicated digitally can become “public and permanent,” which is why it’s so important that students portray the best versions of themselves online. 

For example, Guerry explained how students who document their community service, creativity, talents, and successes may later be able to leverage such attributes to land them a spot at their number one college or even a job. Social media and technology can therefore be real assets that can positively affect a student’s future. 

Cavallo agrees, noting that students have a choice in how they use technology. 

“I think that technology is an awesome tool, and if you use it to promote your awesomeness, that’s a great thing, as opposed to using it to promote something bad, or ill-advised,” said Cavallo. 

In talking about the ability to chat via gaming, Mr. Guerry warned students not to give out private information. (Mr. Crisafi)

Throughout his presentation, Guerry gave students various examples of dire consequences that people, both teenagers and adults, experienced after making poor choices online. Guerry also stressed that everything that they write or post online can be forever associated with their digital footprint.

“The possibilities for creating a positive digital footprint are so abundant for young ladies and young gentlemen,” said Head of Middle School Mr. Charles Hagy. “I don’t want to waste any time showing you how to create a positive digital footprint and how to protect yourselves online. We are only going to be more steeped in technology as it develops in the 21st century,” he said. 

One of the key points that Guerry conveyed to students was that technology is not necessarily a bad thing, but some people make poor choices when using technology which can lead to disastrous consequences.

“Every one of you in your own way is special, unique, and talented, [and] every one of you have or will have tools that connect you to a planet – not your school, not your town, a planet – instantly, so please, I see what you can do every day,” said Guerry in addressing the TBS students. “Continue to develop your skills, continue to develop your creativity, and continue to learn how to use these evolving [technological] tools, and show the world every day how amazing you can be.”