Dressed in his signature black waist coat and white fedora, one of Canada’s foremost online crime fighters arrived at Lake Cowichan School last week with his most up-to-date lessons on Internet best practices.
For the past six years, staff sergeant Darren Laur of the Victoria RCMP has been traveling to schools across Canada as “The White Hatter,” sharing online safety presentations with children, teenagers and adults.
His nickname is an online term describing people who use their knowledge of the Internet for good purposes as opposed to those who do bad things and are referred to as “Black Hats.”
Laur aims to increase awareness of the potential trouble young people can find themselves in if they don’t use the Internet wisely.
“Everything you do online is public, permanent, searchable, exploitable and for sale. If there’s one thing I want people leaving with is that message,” he said.
During his presentations, Laur covers a wide range of topics from bullying and criminal harassment to sexting to the potential impact online behaviour can have on a student’s future job or college applications. Laur updates his lesson plan every six months to keep up with the latest social media sites and apps.
“What changes is the lingo and maybe some of the social networks that are popular, but I stay in contact with the kids,” he said.
Laur’s Facebook page has more than 20,000 followers, most of them students who have seen his presentation.
“They’re always talking to me, keeping me up to date on the current lingo, sites that are popular…It’s a two-way learning street. They learn from me and I learn from them all the time.”
On Jan 19, three additional schools — Drinkwater Elementary School, École Mount Prevost and Tansor Elementary — joined Lake Cowichan students for Laur’s first presentation of the day, designed for Grade 6 to 8 students. The second presentation was for Grade 9 to 12 students, and there was also an evening presentation for parents.
“Our PAC group was going to support it all but after inviting these three schools, they’re all coming in and helping covering the cost,” said Lake Cowichan School vice principal Brent Zimmer.
This was the second time the White Hatter has come to Lake Cowichan, and Zimmer said his school hopes to have him return every two years, adding that it’s important for students to be aware of their “digital footprints” and potential implications of their online activity.
“Without getting into specifics, certainly there have been issues of online bullying with kids in our school. Not necessarily happening here but something that spills over into here [from] something that happens on the weekend or goes on outside of school hours,” said Zimmer.
According to Laur, students in small towns like Lake Cowichan are just as prone to negative online behaviour as those in larger urban settings.
“That’s why we call it the World Wide Web, right? Because it knows no boundaries,” said Laur, adding that the school here is taking the appropriate steps to address this subject.
“The parents are the keystones. Too many parents abdicate their responsibility to the schools on this issue,” he said. “But it’s the parents who are giving these kids these digital keys to the digital highway with these cell phones.”
About two dozen parents showed up for Laur’s evening presentation.
“I thought it was awesome. It was a lot of information in a short time,” said Linda O’Connor afterwards.
“As parents, we’re running really fast to try to keep up with our kids with regards to digital information. And they’re far beyond us.”