The students already knew the basics of the lesson, but even so, there were a few surprises in store for them.
“When you post something online it stays there for how long?” Joe Fingerhut asked them.
“Forever!” the students shouted.
“And it can be seen by who?”
“Everyone!” they shouted.
Fingerhut with My Life Online, told the students to be careful before posting anything to the internet. Make sure that it’s true, that it’s kind, and that it’s about you and not someone else. If it doesn’t meet all three tests, don’t post it.
He spoke to the students in fourth through eighth grade from Williston Public School District No. 1 and from Williston Trinity Christian School. It took three hourlong assemblies in the Bakken Elementary School auditorium to accommodate that many students.
Dakota Family Solutions of Williston helped sponsor the event. Bakken Principal Jeremy Mehlhoff introduced Fingerhut, saying the program instructs students how to make the most of the internet. He said 2.3 billion people — roughly one third of all the people on the planet — use social media.
Fingerhut said social media is not “a big, bad, scary thing.” But there’s a catch.
“Social media is a thing that amplifies who you already are. So the question is, who do you want to be?” he asked.
For people who make bad decisions, the consequences can come back to haunt them. Fingerhut cited several examples of people who got kicked out of school, lost a scholarship, or had a job offer rescinded because of an online post or a message on a Facebook wall.
On the other hand, 44 percent of employers made their decision to hire someone because they liked what they saw in that person’s online post or Facebook wall.
“Your goals are directly connected — can be directly connected — with your life online. Social media has the potential to hurt your chances, or help your chances,” he said.
Fingerhut urged people to think critically about everything they see online, and everything they post online.
That means staying away from — and avoid spreading — Internet rumors. Make sure you know if what you read or write is true.
He also urged the students to be kind. He said that in 2013, 10 percent of students had witnessed bullying online. One year later, that had grown to 90 percent, Fingerhut said.
To illustrate that point, he showed a YouTube video of a boy, aged about 10, dancing and using a banana as a pretend microphone. The students laughed, and laughed again when Fingerhut read the online responses. The comments ranged from “OMG I love this. You sing so beautiful and love your dancing btw awesome banana” to “u suck dude” and even “Hahahaha. Go kill yourself.”
Then he asked the students to imagine that this young boy is in the room and could hear them talking. Just that alone made some of the students gasp.
Now when Fingerhut reread the comments, the students fell silent. After a while, they applauded the kind words and booed the cruelest responses.
The reason for the different reaction is the second time, the students saw him as a human being rather than something on a screen.
“You didn’t want to be a jerk to that kid’s face about him,” one of the students said when Fingerhut asked for their feedback.
Everything posted on the Internet has the potential to hurt someone — or help.
The last category of things that shouldn’t be sent out is personal information, such as home address phone numbers and passwords. Also, do not post things that other people wish to keep private, Fingerhut said.
Speaking after the event, Fingerhut said the students are largely familiar with what not to do online. But it helps to have an added voice.
“These kids are getting good messages from their teachers and their parents. But I like to visualize myself as kind of the cool uncle. You get to come in and deliver the same message, but in a different voice, in a way that relates to them, that maybe hits them with a little more impact,” he said.
Valerie Goldade, assistant program director of Dakota Family Services, said the organization brought Fingerhut in as a gift to the community.
“We want to have a positive impact. This is one way we feel like we can certainly impact students in our community,” Goldade said.
She added that more students need to hear the message. Tuesday’s message was delivered to students between fourth and eighth grade.
“A counselor from McVay School said this needs to be shown to second and third graders. We have kids already with the iPhone X in second grade. So they’re already exposed, but they’re not having the training they need. So she was saying, please, please include second and third grades,” she said.