#cyberSAFE Leaders Series: Julie Anne Culp, Educator and Internet Safety Champion

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Julie Culp Internet SafetyEditor’s note: This blog is the fourth of PRIVATE WiFi’s #CyberSAFE Leaders Series. Every Friday during National Internet Safety Month this June we will publish a feature story highlighting the work of a leader in the world of cyber safety. This week we profile Julie Anne Culp, an elementary school counselor whose unique social experiment showed millions of people there’s something we can do to promote Internet safety.

Julie Anne Culp isn’t an Internet safety expert. She’s a guidance counselor in Hendersonville, Tennessee, who wanted to teach her fifth-grade students to think carefully about what they post online. A whopping 87% used social media, but few understood the risks. So Culp created an ingenious social experiment to get her point across about Internet safety. She posted a photo of herself on Facebook with this simple message:

“I’m talking to my fifth grade students about Internet safety and how quickly a photo can be seen by lots of people. If you are reading this, please click “LIKE.” Thanks!”

Culp’s simple message hit a nerve. It went viral with over four million likes, and created a media frenzy. The educator was stunned by the public reaction.

“I posted it with the expectation of getting help from friends and family, not with the expectation for it to explode the way it did,” Culp says. “But that was the whole point of the experiment in the first place.”

Her photo ended up on Reddit and it was Photoshopped many times – an amusing but frightening illustration of how online content can be altered without the owner’s knowledge.

Bringing the Message About Online Privacy Home

Countless people wrote Culp thanking her for giving them a way to talk about a difficult subject with their students and their children. Her favorite response came from a woman with an autistic child. She said her son doesn’t understand the abstract nature of the Internet and all the people who are out there. So she was going to use Culp’s photo/example as a way to discuss it with him.

But what about Culp’s students? Did her novel experiment have the impact she was hoping for? Absolutely, as the student survey she conducted on lessons learned demonstrates:

  • “People need to realize that someone that you have never seen, heard of, or don’t know can follow you, look at all your photos and even comment on them. Needless to say it’s safer to be private and let only the people you know follow/friend you.” (Note: This refers to Instagram, and how people can just follow you without you knowing.)
  • “I honestly didn’t know that people could go in your account (or look into it) and then change your photo and then do something bad that will embarrass you.”
  • “Colleges and employers are starting to look at social media to hire people.”
    Although Culp’s social media experiment began at school, she says the most important lessons about Internet privacy should be taught at home.
  • “Extend the safety lessons about strangers that are taught when children are younger to personal information. The same is true online!”
  • “Involve children in your own social media, even when they’re little. Ask them for their permission before posting a photo, and discuss the comments afterwards. They’ll start learning that social media, even when ‘private,’ is still public to an extent.”
  • “Model it! Think about how you respond to others online, and what your children are seeing and hearing from your responses.”

What Julie Anne Culp gave the world was a common-sense lesson about Internet safety that won more hearts and minds than any warnings from security experts. And that’s a lesson for us all.

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