To All BC DPACs, PACs, Teachers, Principals, and School Districts
Although it’s sad that we have to post this open message, but we feel we must do so given disinformation that continues to be perpetuated about us, and our programs. It is for this reason that we hope all BC parents who are reading this message will pass it on to their District Parent Advisory Committees, school’s Parent Advisory Committees, teachers, principals, and school district administrators. The only way to counter disinformation is to provide readers with facts.
First, let us give you some background information specific to our multi-award winning social media safety and digital literacy programs that we have now had the privilege of delivering to over 400,000 elementary school, middle school, and high school students throughout Canada and the United States for the past 10 years.
FACT #1: We don’t use a “shock and awe” approach in our presentations
We have adopted a reflective social-emotional “harm reduction approach” in our messaging in all of our social media safety and digital literacy presentations and we have done so since we first developed our school presentations. In the design of our programs, and in our messaging, we have always turned to peer-reviewed research that forms our foundation, both in our program content, and in how it is delivered. For us, it's about giving youth the skills to protect themselves emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially, both online and offline, while at the same time using social media in a positive way to increase their chances of getting into a university or landing the job of their dreams. To accomplish this goal, we use real-world, age-appropriate storytelling based on our unique professional real-world experiences that allow students to be reflective in their attitudes and actions online, both positive and negative. Will some of these real-world stories at times illicit a “shock response?” Yes! But this is done by design because of the current research surrounding psychological appeals, which causes students to be reflective in their use of social media. The key to changing less-than-desirable online attitudes and behaviour is to provide students with clear options and solutions to create more desirable online behaviour via a reflective social-emotional learning process.
FACT #2: We do not teach based on fear
We believe that programs that use the “scared straight philosophy,” or what some have called “scare tactics," in isolation do not work, and this is NOT what we do. We use strategically placed, age-appropriate, reflective, story-based appeals, combined with clear solutions which the current academic peer-reviewed research supports. Those individuals stating that we use a “scared straight” approach could not be further from the truth and are factually incorrect. In fact, we spend the majority of our presentation celebrating tweens’ and teens’ appropriate use of social media. This is one reason why our programs have been recognized with one international, two national, and two provincial awards. No other social media safety and digital literacy program in Canada has received such recognition. Our program and the way we present our information has been vetted and endorsed by therapists, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and academic PhD’s who specialize in this area of research, such as Dr. Sameer Hinduja who stated publicly:
“Love the efforts of Darren Laur in schools; his approach is right in line with mine on how to best reach students.”
Educator Kathy Weymiller, Director of Community Outreach F\or Peninsula School District stated:
“(Laur) is a dynamic presenter who empowers students and parents to enjoy the benefits of the internet while also taking precautions to protect privacy, personal safety and mental health.”
More Importantly here’s what a student recently had to say:
“Honestly your presentation was amazing! I went into it thinking it was just going to be some person giving a lecture on social media safety like all the others we have heard. But it was so much better then that! Everyone was so focused and I feel like you didn't just stand up there and tell us what we heard a million times like all the other programs we have heard, but actually spoke to us in a way that we would understand and could relate too!!!! All my friends loved it so much and found it very touching! It's people like you that will come to our school and actually show us that we don't have to be afraid of social media….”
FACT #3: We continually support schools and students
As a result of our presentations and our social media presence, to date, we have been directly involved in 172 interventions where students have reached out to us for help, given that they were considering self-harm or suicide as an option, because of cyberbullying or sexting gone-wrong challenges. These students heard us speak, reached out to us for help, and by working holistically with their families and schools, we got them the help they needed. We don’t just present at schools and then leave; we continually stay in contact with students, teachers, and parents who can reach out to us at any given time for help or guidance specific to the digital world, and this we do for free. Again, no other company in Canada offers this service.
FACT #4: We encourage positive online behaviours
We also recognize students at schools that we present at who become “upstanders” rather than “bystanders.” These students, because of hearing our presentations, go out of their way to become digital first responders, or gatekeepers, to assist a peer who needs help. These students are recognized with the White Hatter Medallion https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/medallion. This year, we are also awarding a $1000.00 scholarship to a Grade 12 student who will be attending a post-secondary institution and wanting to further their studies in social media safety, network security, or computer science. https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/scholarship
We have yet to find another company like ours or presenter that celebrates the positive uses of social media of today’s youth like we do!
FACT #5: We do not embarrass students
For our presentations, beforehand, we will often “socially engineer” schools, via covert social media accounts, to see how many students will accept a friend request from a complete stranger. If our friend request is accepted, we have no further contact with the student. More importantly, we do not “out” who the students are who did accept our friend request, and we do not “out” or share any information on who these students are, or what they have posted. We never have, and NEVER will embarrass any student in our presentations. Anyone who states otherwise is slandering what we actually do in our presentations. It is unfortunate other presenters in our industry have actually done this, BUT we are not that person or company. In fact, several schools in this province have thanked us for this, given our non-embarrassing approach.
Why do we take this unique social engineering approach? It proves a point to the students (most of whom think they would be able to identify a fake account) to be very careful about who they invite in as a friend. Sometimes, people may not appear to be who they really are. This came about as a result of a group of middle school students who offered us a challenge that they would be able to identify any fake account. We took them up on their challenge, and all were surprised at how they were fooled. These students, and their teachers, stated that this social engineering exercise was the best example to demonstrate this reality. A good example of experiential learning in a safe environment. This strategy also proves to students that everything they post online is public, permanent, searchable, exploitable, copiable, and for sale. It shows them why they need to be hyperaware of their digital dossiers, given that employers, universities, and those who want to use it for criminal or sexual predation can form opinions based upon this information.
FACT #6 Some people don’t support our presentation style and experience, and that’s ok
Because some disliked the fact that Darren was a police officer, there was a Police Act Complaint initiated against him for “conflict of interest” for presenting social media safety outside of his police duties. According to investigators, it was a clear attempt to force Darren out of the BC’s social media safety presentation market. Many are unaware that BC municipal police officers are allowed secondary employment, the RCMP are not, with the permission of a Chief Constable. Prior to Darren teaching privately, he was required to provide a legal opinion from a labour lawyer to his Chief of Police to ensure that legally, there was no conflict of interest when it came to presenting on the topics of online and offline safety. Darren provided this legal opinion from a labour lawyer to his Chief, and was subsequently given permission to engage in presenting with our company. This complaint was quickly dismissed by the BC Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, given that it was 100% unfounded and completely lacked legal merit. As a company, we were also asked to attend a meeting with the Ministry of Education a couple of years ago to defend ourselves against allegations that were again proven to be 100% unfounded, but were simply unfairly spread by others. We have also had to send cease and desist emails asking those who were spreading non-truths about our company to schools. To support this email, we had several principals, who had seen us speak first-hand, who were willing to provide sworn statements, given they had heard this unjustifiable slander directly from this presenter. It is interesting to note that these complaints, and the disinformation about our programs, began to appear once our company became more popular in schools throughout BC, and continue to this day.
FACT #7: We have all the relevant education, experience, and licensing
Another false narrative that we have heard spread about Darren’s background is that although he is a retired police officer, he has no police experience in social media-related investigations. This, too, is completely false.
Before Darren retired from policing after 30 years of service, he was the only multi-certified Open Source Police Intelligence Investigator with the Victoria Police Department. Darren was directly involved in assisting in several social media investigation files, not just with his department, but others as well, including one where he was able to locate a teen who was in the process of attempting suicide. We also currently teach law enforcement on the topic of social media investigations and will continue to do so.
Now that Darren has retired, he is also a provincially licensed investigator in the province of British Columbia. To legally assist on a police file in Canada, a person has to be either a police officer, provincial special constable, civilian police member, or a licensed investigator. Darren is the only civilian social media safety presenter in the province of BC that possess such a licence. In fact, the BC Security Licencing Branch stated to us directly, for any non-police-sworn individual to conduct any kind of online investigation (including online threat assessments for a third party) such as a police department, school, or school district in BC, they are required to be provincially licenced to do so.
As a company, we will always fiercely protect the reputation of our company and our programs when unjustifiably labelled or misrepresented. When asked to compare our company to others, all we ever say is, “We are just different in our approach to educating on this topic.”
We accept the fact that people have a right to their own opinions. However, we do believe that some people need to understand that an opinion voiced publicly, or privately, that is not based on verifiable facts is no longer an opinion, especially opinions or communicated information that hurts a person’s reputation or business. In civil law, such an opinion is actually called “defamatory liable.”
DPACs, PAC’s, teachers, and principals: Please, don’t allow the continued disinformation about what we do cloud your decision to have a highly-acclaimed social media safety and digital literacy presentation from being delivered to your school. We promise you that our program will exceed your needs and if it doesn’t, we will refund you the cost. No other program or presenter offers this money-back guarantee.
If you have any questions or concerns about who we are and what we do please contact us directly 1-250-478-9119 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The White Hatter Team