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Social Networking Lessons Prepare Young Girls for Internet Dangers

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 8/20/2009, 1:37 a.m.

MySpace, Facebook and Twitter were the focus of a day-long town hall meeting designed to educate young girls about the benefits and dangers of social networking on the Internet. About 50 girls from the District, ages 13-to-18, attended the event on Sat., Aug. 8 at the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) headquarters in Northwest. The venerable women€s organization sponsored the forum for girls.

Janice Ferebee, director of the NCNW€s Bethune Program Development Center and organizer of the Second Annual Global Girls Town Hall Meeting, said the decision to focus this year€s theme on Social Networking and Internet Safety was to educate young girls and adults about the potential dangers associated with the Internet.

€The Internet is a great place to network and to learn about things,€ Ferebee said, €but they [teenage girls] also need to know about the dangers.€

€We have to meet young girls where they are and the Internet is the phenomenon of the 21st Century,€ Ferebee said. €I see the suicides and dangers coming from the people they meet online, but they are not thinking that anything is going to go wrong.€

€Young people feel they are so invincible,€ Ferebee said. That€s why adults were invited to offer expert advice on how to avoid precarious situations on the Internet.

The warnings resonated with Cheresa Watson, 13, who attended the program with her 13-year old god-sister. Watson said she has a MySpace page, but what she learned is to only €add people you know; don€t talk to strangers online because it is not safe, and every time you delete a picture, the Internet will always have it; so be careful what you put on the computer.€

Watson said she already knew some of the precautions, but these were €just extra tips to hang onto for safety.€

Christina Robinson, 13, said the program helped her to learn a lot of things about the Internet.

€I don€t have any of the social networking things,€ she said, €but I understand what€s going on.€

Robinson and Watson were accompanied by their mothers, two of only a handful of adults who attended the event. Topics included sexual harassment and the 2006 Megan Meier suicide case.

Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Dardenne Prairie, MO., hung herself as a result of cyber-bullying on the social networking website, MySpace by Lori Drew, an adult, who pretended to be €Josh Evans€ a 16-year-old male who Meier became interested in online. Drew€s actions were in retaliation for rumors Meier allegedly spread about Drew€s daughter, Sarah, who also participated in the fraud.

Meier, who suffered from depression and suicidal impulses, hung herself after receiving a message from €Josh€ that said, €The world would be a better place without you.€ Drew was convicted last November of three misdemeanor charges of computer fraud in what has been called the country€s first cyber bullying verdict.

Renee Watson said her daughter, Cheresa, is very interested in MySpace, Twitter and the social networking scene.

€I thought this would be a good forum for her to hear from someone other than a parent about the good and the bad of social networking,€ Watson said.

€You know how young people are, they think their parents don€t know anything, so I thought if she heard it from someone else, it would be better received and she would be more responsible,€ Watson added.

Christina€s mother, Karolyn Robinson, said her daughter is still a little timid about social networking.

€I am trying to get her to understand about putting out information to people you don€t know. People you are talking to may not be people you know. I try to teach her just to be careful.€

But Watson said the Internet also helps her daughter to express herself. Recently, when Watson€s mother died, she said Cheresa used her MySpace to convey her feelings about the death of her grandmother.