Athens Review, Athens, Texas

September 14, 2012

Warn your kids to stay away from the net’s dark side

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — The first time I clicked on the internet, I was driven by my natural curiosity and my love for electronic gadgets.

That was about 20 years ago. I was working at KCKL and thought it would be cool to get information for my newscasts and sports shows right in my office. I sat and watched the screen slowly fill up with pictures. I finally gave up the search in frustration and said to myself, “What a waste of time.”

Now, our computers have hundreds of times the memory of that old Compaq. I spend hours online each week and still think most of it is a waste of time.

The problem is, I’ve grown to love wasting time. Watching football highlights, music videos on YouTube and checking out pointless posts on Facebook now occupy a pretty big slice on the pie chart  of my day.

Despite the knowledge that I fritter away hours online, I’m also amazed at how useful the net can be. I remember when I was about eight years old, how excited I would be to go to the Mesquite Public Library and look at the literature on-hand.

I loved the reference section. Rifling through the World Atlas looking at all of the maps gave me a pretty basic grasp of geography. Reading the encyclopedia helped me learn about history and important people of the past.

One book in particular could hold me spellbound for hours. It was the Encyclopedia of Baseball, 1962 edition. Even though it was five years old, I was drawn to the fat volume filled with statistics for every player who’d ever suited up and trotted onto the green expanse of places like Forbes Field, Shibe Park and the Polo Grounds.

The Encyclopedia had batting averages for every season the players competed. Every pitcher’s wins and losses, strike outs and walks were just some of the stats in the book.

I loved the book so much, years later, I bought my own updated copy. But today,  with the internet, I can access anything in that book with a few keyboard strokes and clicks of the mouse.

That’s a long way of saying the internet is useful. It’s like having thousands of libraries at your fingertips. The downside is that it can be used for good purposes or for evil.

These days, you can’t be too careful. We, who vaguely remember an elderly gentleman named Ike in the White House are probably a little more suspicious of what we see online than the current generation of kids, who learned to use with baby laptops in their cribs. Parents see their children online and laugh at how much more technically savvy the young ones are than we were - and are. But let’s not forget, as I mentioned earlier, the Internet has an evil side.

This week, news originations across the nation ran the story of a man who was on trial for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl he had lured into meeting him though social media.

According to the Associated Press story, Franklin B. Davis, 30, of Irving,  confessed to arranging a meeting with his victim under false pretenses, driving her to a trail near a river and shooting her twice with a .38-caliber pistol. Police said he did it to keep her from testifying against him for an earlier rape.

That’s a short synopsis of a brutal and heartless act committed by a man who hid his identity and intentions behind a computer screen. There have been countless meeting of the kind that haven’t ended in homicides, but led to ill advised encounters between a minor and a predator.

The problem is not necessarily that there are more evil people in the world today, though that may be true. The concern is that every scoundrel who can post a message  on the web can now touch you from anywhere in the world.

The FBI has some tips for kids to keep them safe when they’re on the computer.

• Never share your name, the name of your school, your address or phone number with someone you chat with on the computer without your parents permission.

• Do not meet someone or have them visit you without the permission of your parents.

• Tell your parents if you read anything on the internet that makes you feel uncomfortable.

• Remember, people online may not be who they say they are. That person claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, may be an older man.

And parents, keep a watchful eye on what your children are accessing on the computer.

Rich Flowers is News Editor for the Athens Daily Review.