MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, an annual event calling attention to the need for more safety-conscious online behavior every day of the year.
Brandy Vela was tormented online by kids in her Texas City school for a year and a half.
Her parents and police tried to help her, but the 18-year-old took her own life right before thanksgiving.
“I want to see these people get locked up. I hope they get what they deserve because I didn’t deserve this,” said her father, Raul Vela.
Studies show 1 in 3 kids say they’ve been cyberbullied.
Forty percent of bullying cases involve instant messenger services, 30 percent on social networking sites and 20 percent while playing online games.
“We want to make sure kids are staying safe when they’re online,” said Callahan Walsh.
Walsh works for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“Parents used to keep the computer in the living room, but now it’s in their child’s pocket. So it’s in their bedroom, it’s in the bathroom with them, it’s everywhere they’re going,” Walsh explained. “So it’s even tougher for parents to monitor when they’re on it 24/7.”
Walsh’s brother, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981.
Since then their father, John Walsh, has dedicated his life to helping kids stay safe as a co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and host the long-running TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s tip line has fielded 8 million reports last year on cyberbullying, online predators and a relatively new crime, sextortion.
“They’re finding an explicit image of a child, by different means, it could be hacking an account, and using it to blackmail the child for further images,” Walsh said.
The center has created an animated safety series to teach young kids how to protect their privacy early.
“Through different activities we try to empower kids to make good decisions on their own,” Walsh said.
When it comes to the hazards kids face today online, experts offer a number of tips to help children stay safe:
- Parents should have frequent discussions with their children about internet safety.
- Set ground rules for kids about which sites are OK to visit.
- Children should tell a trusted adult if they encounter bullying or harassment online.
- If a child is cyberbullied, they should not respond to the bully online. Save any evidence, then block the bully.
Some of the best advice for kids also applies to internet users of all ages:
- Use strong passwords to protect your accounts.
- Don’t share personal information with unknown sites.
- And beware of clicking on “phishing” links that might be trying to steal your data.
In some cases, cyberbullying can be considered a crime.