NORWALK — Thomas Grimes, a retired NYPD detective, believes the internet can be “overwhelmingly good,” but also has the potential to be equally dangerous if users aren’t careful.
Grimes, founder of N.Y. Finest Speakers, met with students at Nathan Hale Middle School to discuss the importance of “Internet Awareness” Wednesday.
He outlined some of the dangers that exist online, gave students tips to protect themselves and also used some real life examples to drive home how things can go wrong instantly.
“You have a power that has never existed before,” Grimes told an auditorium of Nathan Hale students.
“In the course of history, no 7th grader or 8th grader has been as powerful as you are. It’s the power to be heard. The power to say something and five seconds after you say it, the whole school hears you. Seconds later, maybe the whole world hears what you have to say if what you post goes viral.”
“It’s a tremendous power. You can help people with that power and you can also hurt people with that power. It’s never existed before and we’re asking you to understand it and be responsible,” he said.
According to Grimes, much of the dangers that lurk on the Internet are online predators, sexual predators, identity thieves, cyber bullying, cyber harassment, cyber stalking and cyber threats, sexting and sextortion.
While the dangerous behaviors may be easy for victims to identify, Grimes warned students to be mindful if they are exhibiting those behaviors online.
“If you sent a mean message to another kid this morning, you’re an online predator. You’re trying to hurt that kid through the use of technology,” he said.
He pointed out that many predators operate online directly and indirectly. While direct predators make contact with their victims, indirect predators may “friend” a victim to gain access to their profiles and collect information.
“We were told since we were (young) not to talk to strangers. It applies especially online,” he said.
He encouraged students to delete or block friends and followers on social media who make them feel uncomfortable. He also warned students about using their complete date of birth in conjunction with their first and last names on their profiles, which can lead to identity theft.
There are over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, of which 5,700 reside in Connecticut, he said. He discussed cases where adults pose as children and communicate with kids to victimize them.
Grimes said 99.9 percent of internet predators are male and their child victims are 75 percent female and 25 percent male.
“To me, it comes down to these words — privacy, respect, compassion, decency and civility,” he said.
“If you understand those words, you’re ready. You get the power with posting something the whole world may hear. If you’re confused by these words, if you don’t understand these words, you’re not ready to post things. It’s about thinking before we click.”
Grimes said children should abide by age requirements on social media sites, examine their friends or followers and set their privacy controls accordingly. He also cautioned students to never send nude pictures to strangers or people that they know well.
“If you have somebody who tries to pressure you to send pictures of yourself, dump that person as a boyfriend or a girlfriend today,” he warned students. “They are not worthy of being your friend.”
Grimes met with students during the day, but held a more intensive workshop for parents at Nathan Hale Wednesday evening.
He advises parents to “talk to their kids and listen to their kids.”
“If parents can sit at the dinner table and discuss what happens on social media, it’s a victory because kids think they need to hide what they’re doing from their parents. Parents need to embrace and become a part of it, not embarrass their kids, but to see how the rest of the world sees their kids,” he said.
Grimes formed NY Finest Speakers in 2007, a team of retired law enforcement professionals that covers topics such as Internet safety, drug awareness, terrorism, threat assessment and money laundering.
Dr. Albert Sackey, principal of Nathan Hale Middle School, invited Grimes back to the school after he spoke to students about Internet awareness last year.
“It’s an upsetting topic, but it’s a real topic that every child needs to hear because this is the reality that we live in. Everyone that you meet online is not who they say they are,” said Sackey.
“When I met (Grimes) last year, I was blown away. I told him that I would be having him here every year because my students need to hear this message.”
THEHOUR: Retired Detective warns Nathan Hale students about dangers of Internet