The names and logos of four Madison County high schools have reportedly been used in threads on an anonymous website where users ask for nude photos of women by name and graduating class, according to NBC Chicago.
The site is also where nude photos of celebrities and Marines have been posted in recent years. The News-Democrat has decided not to name the website.
Among the 67 Illinois schools identified by school logos on the site are Highland High School, Granite City High School, Triad High School and Alton High School, the news report stated. NBC Chicago reported that the threads bearing the schools’ names were all active in soliciting or trading images at one point during its two-month investigation of the site.
School leaders in Highland and Troy said Friday they had never heard of the site from students. But they said the schools regularly work with students to educate them about internet safety, sometimes by bringing in experts such as Christine Feller, the internet safety specialist for the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
Principal Karen Gauen said Feller spoke to Highland High School students about the dangers of sexting, bullying and inappropriate posts when she visited two years ago.
“I’m saddened that some of our past students may have made inappropriate choices,” Gauen said via email. “Please know that HHS will continue to work with our students and community to educate our youth in the importance of making good decisions.”
Chris Flake, a detective with Highland Police Department, noted that Illinois criminalized the sharing of private, sexual images without a person’s consent. In 2015, it became a Class 4 felony in the state.
“You can report it to your local police agency, who would investigate it,” he said. But Flake acknowledged that it can be difficult for law enforcement to pursue the source because images will sometimes be quickly removed. Then, he said it’s a matter of going through the court process.
Principal Rodney Winslow said Triad High School hasn’t had an issue with students posting nude photos, not just on this site but in general.
He said school staff have conversations in assemblies and one-on-one with students about protecting an “electronic footprint,” explaining that what is shared online is difficult to delete. Gauen and Winslow both said the high schools’ staff also talk about how social media can affect future jobs if potential employers see something inappropriate.
Winslow encouraged parents to bring up internet safety at home with their children and to contact local law enforcement if they believe their child’s images are being shared or posted without consent.
“The education not only has to come from the school, which we try to do, but it also has to come from the parents,” Winslow said.
School leaders at the middle school level have also seen students posting and sharing things online. In March, Collinsville Middle School started banning cellphones during school hours. Principal Kimberly Jackson said the technology had become a distraction and a tool for cyberbullying and sharing of “explicit content.”
Administrators in Granite City and Alton school districts couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
High schools in Belleville District 201 aren’t included in NBC Chicago’s list of schools reportedly identified on the photo sharing site, but Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the schools have dealt with the sharing of nude photos before.
“It’s difficult to monitor because 24/7 is when kids have access to this,” Dosier said. “... The fact that there’s, for most kids, a built-in camera on their phone, it just creates a lot of opportunities for kids to make bad choices.”
Earlier this year, Dosier sat down with some students from Belleville East High School and Belleville West High School to discuss the positive and negative effects of social media. He said they realize the danger of sharing things online.
A graduate of St. Charles North High School told NBC Chicago that she discovered a nude photo of herself on the anonymous website. She said she originally sent the photo to a man a few years ago and that seeing it online was a violation of her trust.
Flake said the Highland Police Department has also seen online scams in which an individual will ask for photos from someone they’ve only interacted with on social media, for example.
“The suspects will then turn around and say, ‘Hey, if you don’t send me money, we will send these to your friends, your parents,’” Flake said.
He said that when Highland police officers visit schools to talk to students about internet safety, they’re stressing the importance of being aware of who they’re talking to online.