One more challenge during virtual learning: lewd Zoom sessions

Henry County schools returned to school Monday with virtual classes.
Henry County schools returned to school Monday with virtual classes.

Online pranks could lead to serious charges, officials warn

Parents and teachers who may have hoped that school would be back to normal by now instead have another challenge to confront: naughty content sneaking into kids’ virtual classes. Whether the culprits are anonymous hackers with lascivious intent or students engaging in what they might think are funny pranks, the “Peak 2020″ phenomenon has become a wearisome one that could lead to serious consequences.

“We’re 24 hours in, and I’m over it,” the Henry County police department said in a Facebook post Tuesday morning, a whole two days into that county’s school year. Students who stream pornography during online class sessions, the post warned, “could face manufacture and distribution of child pornography charges, child molestation charges, and have to register as a sex offender. This is not a joke.”

In response to a Facebook user asking for specifics, the police department said, “We’re seeing the students logging in on their phones and sharing their screens from there, or just holding other screens up to the webcam.”

A post on the Henry County police department's Facebook page Tuesday warned students against streaming porn while doing virtual school. The post was later deleted.
A post on the Henry County police department's Facebook page Tuesday warned students against streaming porn while doing virtual school. The post was later deleted.

Credit: Henry County Police Department Facebook

Credit: Henry County Police Department Facebook

The post was updated throughout the day and eventually deleted, but students and parents should take heed, Atlanta attorney B.J. Bernstein said.

“Juvenile courts are at times filled with young people who think they are pulling a prank and it’s funny — and in fact, they’re breaking the law,” she said. Cyber capers involving phones and computers, such as during online classes, are more sophisticated and show how adept teenagers are at technology, she said.

Youthful inhibitions and social media can be a legally combustible combination. Several years ago, a Cobb County 17-year-old was arrested after police said he texted naked pictures of himself to three underage girls. More recently, a Coweta County 17-year-old was arrested after police said he bullied girls at his high school into sending him nude photos of themselves after claiming to have hacked their social media accounts.

The Henry County police department urged parents to engage their digitally proficient children with F2F (face-to-face, in social media parlance) conversations.

“Talk to your kids,” the department said on its Facebook page, which also added information from the Official Code of Georgia for emphasis:

“Distributing Obscene Material (16-12-80), Distributing Obscene Material depicting nudity or sexual conduct (16-12-81), Child Molestation (16-6-4), Sexual exploitation of children (this would be the production/distribution of child pornography) (16-12-100).”

The Henry school system said in a statement, “This type of behavior is not allowed in our district at any level. Students found to be in violation of our code of conduct, including participation and actions through the digital platform, are subject to disciplinary action.”

ExploreFBI says Zoom the newest way child sexual abuse being shared

Zoom, a digital platform where people can hold virtual gatherings, has soared in popularity since coronavirus has turned many homes into remote offices or classrooms. It’s also become a tool for criminals, the FBI said. Earlier this year the agency reported receiving more than 240 reports of incidents in which a Zoom participant was able to broadcast a video depicting the sexual abuse of children. At least five incidents were reported to the FBI Atlanta office.

Zoom headaches started about the time virtual school did this spring but security measures have helped.

Amy Barnes, whose three children attend Marietta City Schools, said someone hacked into one of their online class sessions and shared illicit images.

”This was early on in the pandemic when the teachers were still learning the ins and outs of Zoom,” she said. “The parents who were on the call immediately started calling for kids to look away and the call was closed immediately,” she said. “Going forward, passwords and waiting rooms were used with fidelity and parents were asked not to share information on social media about school calls. We haven’t had any issues since.”