Penn Manor senior Ashley Starin already had grown tired of MySpace, but what she learned during a recent presentation about Internet safety really turned her off to socializing online.
Ashley and her classmates listened to how people's lives can be compromised and, in some cases, destroyed when they post personal thoughts and pictures on Web pages.
"It's pretty scary," Ashley said. "It's just not worth it" to socialize at such risk.
The forum at Penn Manor High School was organized by a new partnership between the school district and Millersville University's computer science department.
Nazli Hardy, an MU computer science professor, approached Charlie Reisinger, Penn Manor's director of technology, last spring about educating students, parents and the public about online security risks and the consequences of baring all in cyberspace.
"I think it's a natural relationship," Hardy said. "I have an interest in the landscape of Internet safety and wanted to connect with the community."
During the presentation, Hardy, Reisinger and two MU students majoring in computer science spoke about the power of the Internet.
Reisinger warned students to think twice if they believe Google is only a search engine.
"It's a reputation machine," Reisinger said. "Whatever you say online is not private. Forget the words "on the DL" (down low), "private" and "between friends."
Additional community information sessions were scheduled in November at Marticville Middle School and Manor Middle School.
Hardy said lectures will continue in the spring at MU about positive aspects of the Internet including educational and environmental blogging.
Hardy and Reisinger showed several examples of social networking sites where both adults and young people post suggestive or imply indulgent behavior.
While no harm may be meant by posts, Hardy said there are immediate and future consequences.
Hardy said it is common for potential employers and college admissions personnel to research a candidate's digital profile.
Before posting personal information online, Hardy said people should ask themselves whether their grandmother, employer or a college admissions officer would approve of the material.
Hardy also said people should ask if they are making themselves a target.
"Think of what could be used that would make your life miserable," Hardy said.
Reisinger said young people often inadvertently exploit themselves on the Internet because they want to be noticed.
"The online experience is very powerful," Reisinger said. "It goes beyond the 15 minutes of fame concept."
Senior Tommy Schmertz, who has a Web page on Facebook and MySpace, said he's going to be more careful. "I didn't know there were so many different ways to get information. I'm going to make sure I'm not going to put anything up there that is personal in the future."