Bermuda’s children are at risk from an “epidemic” of cyberbullying, sexting and online sexual images, experts warned yesterday.
Deana Puccio, a New York specialist invited to speak at a conference organised by island online safety group Cyber Tips, said youngsters could leave themselves open to serious risk online without realising it. Dr Puccio, a former criminal prosecutor and co-founder of The Rap Project, set up to promote online safety for teenagers, highlighted the risk of online grooming of youngsters by sexual predators.
She said: “We can be a lot more bold when we are hiding behind the screen.
“When you ask someone to follow you on social media and you don’t know who they are, you are giving them access to information that you wouldn’t in person. That is worrisome.
“Set your boundaries and only give access to people you know and trust, and people you can actually see.
“Predators know what you listen to and what shows you watch — they build a relationship with you and then they ask to meet you or meet via a live streaming app.
“You find out they are not who you thought they were but the problem is you are already emotionally invested. Always follow your gut instinct.”
She was speaking at a conference at CedarBridge Academy in Devonshire attended by about 600 pupils from across the island. The event was organised by Cyber Tips, a joint effort by Government’s Department of ICT Policy and Innovation, the Bermuda Police Service and other concerned organisations.
Sloane Wilson, from the Department of ICT Policy and Innovation, said she had worked with Cyber Tips for about four years.
She added she has seen and heard about widespread instances of cyber bullying, sexting and online porn or sexual images in Bermuda.
Ms Wilson said: “We are seeing a lot of things like cyberbullying and online porn where people post videos without realising the effect it can have on themselves or someone else.
“They are not thinking that once you post something you can’t take it back — it is searchable and it is out there for ever.
“We wanted to bring awareness to the students to help them to understand that the things that they are doing now could have long-term consequences and affect their future in getting a job or going to a school they want to attend.
“It’s also important that parents have open conversations with their children.”
Ms Wilson said one of the most important lessons for children to learn is that legal action can be taken against offenders.
She added: “I think there is an understanding that these things are wrong and that victims have a recourse for action.
“Often they think that cyberbullying or negative online behaviours are just things that happen and you should get over it but understanding that they do have a recourse has empowered them. It also forces them to make better digital decisions themselves.”
Ms Wilson explained, while there were many experts for pupils to get information from during a series of workshops, including one run by Wayne Caines, the national security minister, pupils should share their experiences and come up with their own solutions to online risks.
She added: “The point of today is to bring them all together and given them information and also give them a voice.”
From target, to snitch to survivor: one bullied Bermudian teen’s tale
Teenager Noah Brady Soares’s life was made a misery by school bullies who harassed him at school and online.
But the Mount St Agnes pupil, now 18, said his decision to stand up to his tormentors changed his life — and theirs.
Noah, who is co-chairman of the social committee of online safety group Cyber Tips, explained bullies started to target him in his first year at high school.
He said bullies picked on him because he was “socially different” and did not want to get involved in illegal activities like some of his schoolmates.
Noah added: “I was a lot smarter than a lot of people in my class and I was struggling in social groups.
“There were people who wanted to go and do drugs but I didn’t want to do that stuff. There was a lot of peer pressure.
“I was bullied because I didn’t want to do it, because I wasn’t getting girls’ attention, because I wasn’t cool enough going out with those guys. I just stayed home and studied.”
Noah said: “It was everything from coming to school and being called names to notes being left in my locker, to messages on the class group chats being roasted.
“By the end of grade 10, I was really low and super angry.”
Noah was speaking at the Digital Leadership Conference, designed to help youngsters avoid online pitfalls, held at CedarBridge Academy yesterday.
He said his mother found out about the way he was being treated after she found abusive messages on his phone.
She contacted his school and discussed the problem with staff — but although the bullies laid off for a short time, the harassment began again.
Noah said: “They said I was a snitch. At the end of grade 10 I stood up to them — it took a lot.
“I was about 15 almost 16 and I’d had enough.
“It was probably the greatest thing I have done in my life. I felt like a person and wasn’t invisible any more.
“I felt like I was being listened to and being paid attention to and for me I had never experienced that before — being left alone and not being made fun of.
“I could go to school and breathe and not worry about what people were saying about me.
“I said if you don’t stop I am going to let the police know — you are bothering me, this is harassment.
“I am ready to take it to the next step. This kind of stuff is serious.
“For me the biggest thing for me to do was to stand up, rise up and overcome.
“Now the people who bullied me I’m friends with, we talk, we got past it and I have forgiven them. Something has happened to them as well.”