Sexting—or sending sexually explicit messages and photographs over the Internet—is not a crime and the volunteers gathered in Kelowna this week for the annual Crime Stoppers conference need to remember this, according to a local social media expert.
UBCO professor Christopher Schneider says he’ll be delivering a keynote address aimed at taking the panic out of social media, youth and safety discussions this Saturday morning, pointing out teenage flirting was never caught on tape when most of the population was growing up.
“The first knee-jerk reaction is always: ‘This has to be stopped,’” he said.
He noted that whether it’s sexual interaction or cyber bullying, there is now an urge to criminalize youthful indiscretions that might have gone unnoticed, or punished differently, in the past.
Looking south of the border where a handful of cases have seen youth placed in jail and even registered as sex offenders for possessing naked photos of other under-aged peers—deemed as child pornography—should be looked at as red flags in his view.
“The law has not kept pace with technology,” he said.
“(And) it’s causing problems.”
Schneider says parents, the school system and even the police need to remember that social media is a tool and shouldn’t necessarily lead to a crack-down approach.
“You can use a hammer to build a house or you can use a hammer to bludgeon someone to death,” he said. “It’s what you want to do with it.”
In some states there is already talk of lessening penalties for certain crimes to deal with the emergence of social media, as lawmakers start to question whether some of the behaviours being picked up are really worth ruining lives over, said Schneider.
The Central Okanagan Crime Stoppers Society is hosting the provincial Crime Stoppers training conference this week, May 12 to 14, at the Coast Capri Hotel.
Delegates from the western Canadian provinces will attend, with RCMP from B.C. and Alberta and municipal forces from Victoria, Abbotsford, and Vancouver in the mix.
This year’s theme is Internet-based crimes, such as luring and cyber bullying, particularly as it is directed at young people.
However, the conference is also an opportunity to train board members from the region on the issues facing their communities—drugs, fraud, gangs and so forth.
Some 108 delegates will attend the event, according to Gerry Guiltenane, Central Okanagan Crime Stoppers coordinator.
“We just want to make people aware of the dangers that are out there,” he said.
There are some 1,400 Crime Stoppers programs across Canada.
Internationally, Guiltenane said the program is now making the move into developing countries.
It’s hoped with the proliferation of programs around the world some of those social media tools, like Facebook, can be harnessed to help catch wanted fugitives.
Social media delivered a big international crime fighting scoop last week when a man in Pakistan tweeted about the U.S. raid to capture Osama bin Laden, while the raid was underway.