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Washington students to learn cyber skills to protect against online predators, sexting

SEATTLE – A new initiative implemented this school year aims to combat adult sexual predators who are trying to lure young victims.

The initiative came from a bill passed in the 2016 legislative session.  The goal is to start teaching cyber security so youths can be more savvy and safe while on social media.

These days most kids know more about social media and technology than their parents.

“These online tools are really amazing and powerful when they’re done right,” said state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett.

Recently, we’ve seen social media and sharing on phones gone wrong.  This time last year, two members of the University of Washington’s Crew team were accused of sexual assault and sending and sharing a sexually explicit video of the victim.

It’s not just happening in college.  Several Bellevue High School students faced multiple charges after taking and sharing a video of an alleged rape of an eighth-grader at a house party.  The teens told police they didn’t know it was wrong and didn’t know they were breaking the law.

Cases like those led lawmakers to pass a bill mandating cyber skills taught in all Washington schools for students of all ages.

“Basic skills, basic rules of the road, basic technologies and thinking about the risk,” said Liias.

The goal is to teach kids about the online world; the powers and the dangers.  Plus, they’re working on an online portal to share internet etiquette lessons, cyber security tips, and possible criminal consequences.

The sharing portal is “so that we don’t ask every teacher to re-invent the wheel, so that we don’t ask every teacher to try and figure this out on their own, but every teacher to share the best approaches and what’s working the best,” said Liias.

On Thursday, a Lynnwood man was sentenced after promising to feature teenagers and young women in a "documentary," only to get them involved in prostitution.

Social media expert Linda Criddle says instances like this show parents play a crucial role, even if they don’t understand everything about social media.

“If you don’t have to learn how to do every single feature of a Snapchat or Facebook or whatever they may be using, but you have to understand the principles,” said Criddle.

Liias says the congressional testimony of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sparked concern about data we get and send on Facebook.  It could mean more laws about how data is collected, stored, and sold.   Click here for a media literacy checklist for every age.