Information, not vigilantism.
That’s Matt Richardson’s number one goal as he teaches parents and students about the dark side of the Internet.
Richardson, 40, of Quinte West, and a father of two young children, spoke at the Belleville Public Library Saturday afternoon about the perils of an online life and what parents can do to make the lives of themselves and their children safer.
“The purpose of the seminar is, rather than frighten, to empower parents, caring adults and give them the skills, tools and sensible strategies for safe-guarding their families online and giving the children the tools they need to make safe choices online,” Richardson told The Intelligencer, before the 2:30 p.m. seminar.
Richardson has been teaching online safety since 2013. He has a background in the health sector, and once worked as a constituency assistant for Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis.
“Not only do I know a lot about the predatory adults out there, I know the technological tools and the tactics they use to find you online. And that’s a unique blend of skills,” said Richardson.
He admits that his skill can sometimes even overwhelm him on a personal level.
“I see stuff I don’t want to see all the time,” he said. But, while investigating, he learns how predators talk to children “… it’s necessary for what I do.”
Richardson recently held classes at Queen Victoria, Albert College, the Military Family Resource Centre at CFB Trenton and with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. He also works with community agencies such as Pathways To Independence. At the end of the month, he is beginning a series of online safety and related topics for Belleville Chamber of Commerce.
Richardson is launching his own website Monday: www.digitalempowermentproject.ca It is the Canadian cousin of an existing U.S. Website run by an Ohio police officer – www.digitalempowermentproject.com
“I go into the games like Fortnite, apps and look at this through the eyes of a child,” said Richardson. “I’m seeing and experiencing them (through the eyes of the child.) I’ve seen the luring, grooming tactics, and threats that these predators use to exploit and harm these children.”
He also has extensive knowledge of the dark web, something many parents have no clue about. He touches on it during his 90-minute or so seminars.
“When I do the online investigating, the other thing I do is use great caution and care,” said Richardson.
He discourages vigilantism in the strongest sense. “I do this (research) to enhance the material I deliver in my presentations to better education parents and children,” said Richardson. “I get messages from people – who mean well, but I want to discourage that in the strongest sense – who want to be vigilantes.”
Andrea Allard, Digital Literacy and Coding Instructor at Belleville Public Library, said she was thrilled to have Richardson hold his seminar at the library.
“I wanted the community to have more of an understanding of online safety, it’s one of the things I teach,” said Allard.
She says the library runs a 10-week digital literacy and coding program for 12-15 year olds. It is free. By the end of it, Allard says the attendees will know how to create a website from scratch using HTML and CSS.
“Coding is a really important skill right now, especially in the 21st century and the program is trying to reach as many youth as possible that otherwise wouldn’t have access to this program,” said Allard.
The program ran from October to December 2018 and was filled, with many on a waiting list. The next program begins Jan. 17 and is open to 20 students. You can register by going to the library.
For more information from Matt, you can e-mail him at email@example.com