June 2, 2010



Kim Schweikert, College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning, 896-5888
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Second Annual Safe Schools Safe Community event involves national expert on cybercrime


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — A middle school girl walks home from school, her shoulders heavy from enduring the slings and arrows of another day of bullying, taunts and jeers.


Safe Schools, Safe Community logo

But there is no respite at home. Her Facebook profile carries the digital versions of verbal ridicule she faces at school, reminding her that there is no longer a safe haven from seemingly endless teasing and hate.


For some, the sadness and pain can be almost unbearable. For a few, suicide feels like the only way out.


Across the United States, stories like these have captured headlines. The Myspace insults that caused Megan Meier to kill herself generated a much-discussed court case and 15-year-old Phoebe Prince’s suicide was recently a cover story in People magazine. When Jessie Logan’s naked picture made it from her boyfriend’s cellphone to the whole town, she took her own life rather than face ongoing harassment from other students.


Bullying is no longer the kids-will-be-kids issue that takes place in school hallways and playgrounds. The pervasiveness of the internet and social networking has made it a community issue that needs to be addressed on a community level, says Parry Aftab, a national expert on cybercrime issues and the keynote speaker at a conference this month to address cyberbullying and sexting. Her TV town meeting with Diane Sawyer on sexting brought national attention to the issue.


In partnership with Billings Public Schools, Montana State University Billings’ second annual Safe Schools Safe Communities Conference is designed to provide local solutions to an issue no longer confined by fences and buildings. At the end of the two-day event, all will be armed with an action plan to protect our children from cyberbullies and keep them from hurting themselves and others online.


The two-day conference is set for June 21-22 at the MSU Billings main campus, 1500 University Drive. The cost is $179 and includes lunch both days as well as access to the latest information on cyberspace issues related to the growing risks of cyberbullying, sexting, social networking technologies and sexual exploitation and predation.


For an additional $100, those attending the conference can earn a college credit.


The goal of the conference is to provide Billings and Montana residents with tools to battle the cyberbullying issue, Aftab said.

“The goal is to empower them,” the attorney said from her East Coast office. “They don’t need someone from New York to teach them about cybersafety.”


Aftab has been teaching others about cybersecurity and related issues for years. A cyberlawyer since 1994 and a longtime child advocate, Aftab wrote the first book for parents on cybersafety in 1997 and founded and runs the world’s largest Internet safety organization, WiredSafety. WiredSafety operates stopcyberbullying.org, the most popular cyberbullying prevention website. Ms. Aftab is frequently called as an on-air expert for the Today Show and Good Morning America, and appears regularly on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, the O’Riley Factor, CBS News and NBC News. She has been used as a resource for 20/20, Dateline, Oprah, Inside Edition and 48 Hours and is consulted on issues ranging from cybercrime, privacy and security, cyber-terrorism, surveillance and spyware and cyberlaw generally.


keynote speaker, Parry Aftab

MTV began looking at the sexting and digital abuse issue last year in a poll conducted with Associated Press, finding that one-third of the teens polled admitted to receiving or sharing a sexual or nude image of another teen. Teenangels, the teen cybersafety leadership program operated by WiredSafety (the charity Aftab operates) found that 5 percent of the 10- to 12-year-olds polled had taken a sexually provocative, nude or sexual image and 6 percent had received one of another minor.


At the Safe Schools Safe Communities conference, Aftab will lead participants through interactive discussions to help hone issues into solutions. Different stakeholders — from educators to law enforcement experts to parents — will be asked to help create an action plan that can be used in Billings and Montana to battle cyberbullying issues.


“Everybody has a stake and everybody’ has a voice,” she said. “This will be a workshop where everyone will have to answer the same questions from their unique perspective to develop a solution. The goal is to build a cyberarmy where everyone knows their role.”


For some, she said, the key will be to better understand the technology more frequently used by children and teenagers. But that doesn’t mean tools such as Myspace and Facebook are inherently bad, she said.


“Social media has risks if anyone misuses it, but also keeps people connected,” she said. “They key is addressing it without throwing out the baby with the cyberbullying bathwater.”


Local, state and international experts will join Aftab at the two-day conference and will lead small group and panel discussions as an action plan is developed.


For more information and to register, call (406) 896-5890.


PHOTO ABOVE: keynote speaker, Parry Aftab