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How Safe is Your School from Cyber Threats?
On Wednesday in North Texas, a young man threatened to carry out a shooting at a Princeton ISD school using the social media application Burn Book. The individual was quickly taken into custody largely because he posted a “selfie” (photo of himself) that police used to identify him. He has been charged with making a terroristic threat. After the arrest, the school increased police presence, performed mandatory bag searches and utilized metal detectors in an attempt to assure the student body and parents that the learning environment was safe.
Important lessons can be learned from this incident.
First, young people are familiar with social media in a way that many adults cannot comprehend. It is important to understand that young people are growing up with social media as a pervasive concept and, as a result, use it differently than most adults. Social media is a vehicle for whatever good, neutral, bad (including criminal) thoughts and ideas that young people want to articulate. It is often driven by the idea that there is a degree of anonymity. That idea can encourage misuse. Additionally, social media users are attracted to the fact that this vehicle affords a potentially unlimited public platform for expression. That attraction to attention can result in significant regrets.
Second, school stakeholders (police, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students) can use social media to prevent crimes, identify criminals, and gather evidence to prosecute. Lack of familiarity with social media and the related fear of technology should not be a barrier. A 2012 LexisNexis survey found that 80% of police officers that used social media to investigate crimes were self-taught. Is cyber evidence really reliable? The same survey found that social media evidence utilized to get search warrants stood up to challenges in 87% of the time.
If adult stakeholders do not take steps to learn about social media, integrate with it effectively, and learn how to navigate pitfalls, they run the risk of falling hopelessly behind. What kind of consequences could result from this deliberate ignorance? Just imagine a world where young adults are shaping the use, and misuse, of social media without any realistic boundaries or ethical principles to guide them. The time to be proactive is now. On Wednesday, the threat of school violence in North Texas was quelled. What will happen in the next instance?
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About the Author
Paul Timm is a board-certified Physical Security Professional (PSP), president of RETA Security, Inc., and a nationally acclaimed expert in school security. In addition to conducting numerous vulnerability assessments and his frequent keynote addresses, Paul is an experienced School Crisis Assistance Team volunteer through the National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA). He holds a patent on a vulnerability assessment methodology known as ALPHAÔ and is certified in Vulnerability Assessment Methodology (VAM) through Sandia National Laboratories.
Paul is a member of ASIS International, where he serves as vice chairman of the School Safety & Security Council, and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO), where he serves on the Risk Management Committee. Nearing the completion of his MDiv at Moody Theological Seminary, Paul holds a degree in Speech Communications and a Certificate in Business Administration from the University of Illinois.
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