By now, most parents have heard of Jessica Leonhardt, a.k.a. Jessi Slaughter, the 11-year-old who posted some seriously outrageous videos on YouTube without her parents' knowledge. Her actions led to cyberbullying so severe, she landed herself in child protective custody.
While we can't watch our children 100 percent of the time, we can take measures to ensure that their time on the Web and on their cells is safe.
Take, for instance, the new program called "My Mobile Watchdog" (MMWD) -- it's software that alerts parents if an unknown or unapproved person tries to text or call their child. (The program also lets parents monitor Internet usage and applications on their children's phones.) We sat down with the company's president, Bob Lotter, to talk about this ingenious software and how it's helping parents keep kids safe.
Bob Lotter: MMWD started out first as a law-enforcement initiative. As a mobile technology company, we developed software for many phones. I was approached by a detective friend from local law enforcement to assist on a case involving cell phones -- an 11-year-old girl and a 29-year-old male trying to solicit child pornography. Thus began the very first development of a solution to assist law enforcement in catching child predators who are using cell phones to exploit children.
The essential [thing about] MMWD is that it monitors literally everything that goes in and out of the phone. This includes texts, pictures, video, applications, e-mails and phone calls. Alerts can be set up to send real-time copy of the content of these messages to parents or law enforcement. Different levels of privacy can be adjusted, depending on the policy of the parent. In particular, any stranger is automatically designated as suspicious, and alerts are sent to the parent's phone on every communication with a stranger, or any unapproved contact.
ml: What do you think about the recent "Jessi Slaughter" situation? Are there steps that her parents could have taken to prevent that from happening?
BL: Well, I believe what Jessi is doing is wrong, and I believe her parents are potentially dead wrong. What is an 11-year-old doing saying these things? What kind of parents let her, or even encourage her? If it was mistake or a retaliation, OK -- be done with it. Instead, they continue to feed the back-and-forth. Having said that, cyberbullying is real.
The above is an extreme example. In reality, it happens every day in schools across America. It can quickly get out of hand. Sexting is a form of cyberbullying where an inappropriate picture was taken -- either secretly or even with permission -- then vindictively passed onto others. Children do not often understand the ramifications of having their naked photo potentially posted to the Internet as child porn.
MMWD is a vital tool in the battle against cyberbullying. What make cyberbullying so bad is how fast a message, taunt or picture can circulate. Since parents receive alerts and a copy of the actual message, they can nip it in the bud. [They can also] take reports printed from our service and deliver these to the parent of the offending child, the principal or law enforcement, depending on the severity of the incident. Children are not mature, and therefore their decision-making process is flawed. Parents need to be there the exact moment that some of these decisions get made, like when a boyfriend tries to solicit a naked photo or their child ends up involved in a taunt, etc. In the case of Jessi, her parents should get her off the Internet NOW -- and move.