HALEYVILLE - Law enforcement have once again returned to Haleyville Middle School with strong warnings to students due to continued inappropriate uses of social media.
During the 2021-2022 school year, Haleyville Police, as well as the Winston County District Attorney’s Office spoke with students in grades 6-8 about the dangers of sexting, or sending inappropriate pictures of themselves to others, as well as other social media security concerns.
After an incident where police were called to the middle school this school year, Haleyville Police suggested to educators they needed to return to speak with students concerning this issue. On Thursday, Sept. 8, students assembled by grade level for three separate programs conducted by School Resource Officer Ron Harper, as well as HPD Lt. Eddie Collins, Sgt. Rodney Shirley and Chief Rodney Lewis.
Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson, who opened the program, stated that educators are concerned about social media problems among students.
“We had a problem at the beginning of the school year. Students are communicating with people they trust, whom they shouldn’t, whether it is through Facebook or Snapchat. They send them information. It could be where they live or pictures,” Wilcoxson added, confirming that some students have sent inappropriate pictures of themselves to others.
Harper began by asking the students how many of them did not hear last year’s message on the dangers of social media, in particularly sending explicit pictures. One student raised their hand.
“To the rest of you, welcome back,” Harper stated. “We’re here again. I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but guess what? It has happened again.
“We’ve already had an incident in the school, pictures being sent through social media. I don’t mean nice pictures. It’s the pictures of you naked, or worse,” Harper pointed out. “We’re going to talk about it one more time.”
Harper then asked the students to raise their hands if they had Snapchat, with several of the students raising their hands.
“Have you read the Snap agreement?” Harper then asked, holding up his phone. “If you have read the Snap agreement, raise you hand.”
Maybe two students in the assembly raised their hands.
“Every word?” Harper then asked. “You have read every bit of this, the Snap agreement?
“Do you know what a Snap agreement is? It’s an agreement that when you download the app, you agree to their terms of service.”
Harper then told students the agreement contained 16 to 17 points.
“Number three is a biggie, if you want to go read it,” he noted. The second paragraph reads that all content students send on the app is submitted to the services of Snapchat, based in California.
“Everything you send on Snapchat, even though it disappears from your phone in a few seconds, it stays on their server forever,” Harper emphasized. “They keep everything.”
Harper then emphasized that students are giving the app permission to host, store, cache, view, reproduce, modify, display, edit, publish or transmit the content sent to them.
“They can use it however they see fit,” he said. Holding up his phone, Harper added, “These are smartphones. They make us dumb every day.
“There are a lot of dirty, dirty deeds that go on with these phones,” he added. “We have got to hammer home the point it can affect you the rest of your life.”
Harper then asked if sex trafficking or human trafficking could happen locally.
“Are we in a bubble that we’re protected from that environment?,” he asked. “No.”
Shirley then addressed the students by saying, “We all know what we’re talking about when I say sending pictures and videos.
“Everybody know what self-respect is right?” Shirley asked. “You lose self-respect when you do that. Respect is something you are going to carry with you the rest of your life.
“You take that picture, and you mash send, there is no calling it back,” Shirley pointed out. “It’s done.
“Anybody can get that picture,” Shirley continued. “You think you are sending it to your friend, but you are putting it out there.”
If an inappropriate picture is sent to a “friend” and that “friend” becomes mad at the sender, that “friend” will show his or her friends and, before long, that one picture will have mass circulation, Shirley noted.
“Do not take a picture or send anything that you would not want your parents, your guardian, these teachers or us to even see,” Shirley pointed out, “because guess what? We’re not the only ones who will be seeing it. I don’t want to see it, but that is part of it because we have to investigate it.”
Shirley then emphasized that if students sent an inappropriate picture, they could be charged with a crime. “You didn’t know that, did you,” Shirley asked students. “It’s a very big deal, and the person who receives the picture can also be charged.”
Alabama has not established a teen sexting law, which means sending nude or sexually explicit photos electronically via text messaging, email or social media, falls under child pornography. Alabama’s child pornography laws make it a felony to produce (create), distribute or possess obscene images, videos and other materials that depict a minor younger than 17 engaged in an act of sexual conduct or lewd exhibition of nudity. Possession of obscene images of a minor is a Class C felony in Alabama, while distribution or possession with intent to distribute such images is a more severe Class B felony. Producing or creating the images is a Class A felony.
Class A felonies in Alabama can carry life prison terms, while Class B felonies carry prison terms of 2-20 years and up in prison. Class C felonies carry a minimum prison sentence of a year and a day up to 10 years in prison.
Collins told the students they need to be role models for students younger than them, addressing 8th grade students, the oldest students at the middle school.
“It is my job to prosecute you, to charge you, if you have nudes on your phone and you send them to someone else,” Collins noted. “It’s the dissemination or possession of child pornography.
“Stop asking girls for nudes,” Collins spoke plainly to the boys in the assembly, “because you don’t know where those things are going, guys.”
Collins further addressed the assembly by saying, “Don’t send a naked picture of yourself...You just sent your naked body to the entire world, and God knows who is looking.”
Eighth grade student Peter Reynolds took from the assembly that law enforcement care about them and want them protected.
“Be safe and do not send pictures you are not supposed to,” Reynolds said.
Student Becca Yarbrough added, “You need to have more self respect, in order to not send those things.
“It’s not what God would want or your teachers would want, and it just gives you a bad reputation,” Yarbrough added.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.