Richard Guerry grabs his audience with a mix of information on responsible Internet use and numerous real-life examples of what can go awry, everything from the consequences of hitting an accidental "reply all" to a personal photo that turns viral.
The 36-year-old founder of the New Jersey-based nonprofit Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication brought his message to Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville on Monday.
He spoke of the young teen who sent a racy photo of herself to a would-be boyfriend along with the question "Am I hot?" and received more than 300 replies, mostly from pedophiles. He shared newspaper accounts of teens charged with pornography for texting nude photos of themselves, and the drug dealer arrested after inadvertently texting police.
"Once you hit 'send' on anything, you lose control," Guerry said. "There are a million ways your message can become public and permanent."
"Public and permanent" should be etched on every digital tool to remind users that what they write, text or photograph can have ramifications that reach well into their futures, he said.
"Technology is an awesome tool that gives you immense power," he said. "Make that power work for you."
Lisa Cohen, academic technology director, said she invited Guerry to the school to help students "navigate the Internet highway safely."
Guerry continued the metaphor. "We have become so focused on making the Internet hipper, cooler and faster, we forgot to teach many how to drive it, " he said.
He softened his message slightly for his youngest audience at the all-girls Catholic school and expected the presentation for faculty and parents to be more in-depth. Still, Darcy Bromley, a seventh-grader, said she got it.
"I knew about all this stuff, but this will make me be a lot more careful about what I put online," she said.
Guerry filled a large screen with images of unsavory characters and then asked students what they would do if they met such people in a public park.
"If you don't know a person, be careful what you share with them," he said. "You would not talk to strangers in a local park. You should not talk to them in a global park either."
Eighth-grader Stacy Fewster said, "He didn't try to scare us. He just told us stuff that is good to know."
Guerry has given the presentation more than 700 times since founding the institute three years ago and has twice received awards from the School Safety Advocacy Council. He has spoken most often to students but has also shared his message at law enforcement seminars and on military bases.
Maryvale scheduled separate presentations for middle- and high-school students, another for the faculty and one in the evening for parents and the community.