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Kew High School's cybersafety/digital citizenship blog. Printed here with permission
I once read about an 11-year-old girl who had published a photo of herself, posing in a bikini, on a social-media website. On discovering this, her mother was horrified but couldn't seem to make her daughter understand why this behaviour was inappropriate. Eventually mum came up with this comparison: 'Would you stand in the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Grand Final Day in your bikini? With 100,000 people looking at you?' Then the penny dropped. The somewhat abstract idea of publishing online quickly crystallised into reality for the girl; a potential worldwide audience of both friends and strangers that have their own agendas was suddenly understood. And the ability of other social-media users to keep copies of the photo, even once deleted, was extremely worrying. Needless to say that certain photos were deleted and settings changed to private.
However, these follies have not only tripped up the youngest social-media users. Even the then 28 year old St Kilda Football Club captain, Nick Riewoldt, was left red-faced over the publication of an inappropriate photo. The photo of a nude Riewoldt was published via Facebook and then spread virally through Twitter and other social-media outlets. Even after the photo was deleted from the Facebook account, it had been further disseminated over 20,000 times. The possibility that every person who saw the photo kept a copy of it can only be a nightmare for Riewoldt. However, that is the nature of social media today. The 'think before you click' slogan has never been more relevant.
The advent of social media has many advantages. The ability to create and share and to collaborate is liberating for many people. The contributions of so many people have enriched lives where previously their voices would not have been heard. However, with the internet and social media, we are all publishers now, so the filters that we used to have (book publishers and editors, newspaper editors) are non-existent. This means that what would often be rethought and discussed and possibly discarded, will be published now, often without a thought. The immediacy of social media is also an issue. The impetus we have to share our thoughts online when upset or annoyed can often make us look foolish. Wait five minutes before you tweet. Think about what the effects of your tweet may be. If you're still sure you want to share, then go ahead. The pause to consider ramifications is always useful, whether it be for child, young adult or adult.
Even though it is possible to delete photos, posts and comments after publication, often they can still linger. There are ways these posts can still be discovered online. And as mentioned earlier, once published, anyone can copy texts, videos or photos and store them on their own computer, publicly available or not. It is impossible to know how many people have copies or our information once it's been posted online.
In August 2011, I began writing daily cybersafety/digital citizenship posts. It had become apparent to me that a good proportion of parents (not specifically the parents of Kew High School students, but parents in general) were not social-media users themselves and therefore were unaware of the risks and responsibilities involved for their children. Although many students are very adept at using computers and social media, they are often unaware of the implications of their actions, whether it be publishing photos, trolling, sexting or sharing private information. The blog by-line is Kew High School promoting responsible use of social media and internet.
Daily tips include information about Facebook privacy settings, online scams, changes to the terms of service of social-media sites, places to find support regarding cyberbullying, where to report cyberbullying, avoiding meeting people in real life that you've only met online, keeping passwords secret, how social media can affect our future and/or current employment, developing an appropriate and positive digital footprint, photo tagging and facial recognition. Using a mix of videos, infographics, news stories, information and links, my aim is that the iQ blog is the one-stop shop for parents in need of social-media advice.
These days employers, real estate rental agents and even potential boyfriends/girlfriends routinely Google us. For many employers, a lack of social-media presence is an issue in itself. If you are wanting to work for a progressive organisation, they will be wondering why you aren't publishing and sharing. However, a social-media presence is not just enough. A positive digital footprint is mandatory now as nasty comments, trolling, too much information and inappropriate pictures can sound the death knell to potential jobs, homes and relationships. I know of a person who missed out on a rental property after their Facebook profile stated their interests included drinking and partying. I know of another person who was interested in pursuing a relationship with a specific person. After his Facebook profile stating that he loved 'hooning' and street racing was viewed, their ardour quickly cooled. So before publishing, think 'do I really want the world to see this? Do I really want the world to view me in that way?'
My best tips for social-media use?
- Respect others. Someone might annoy you, but that's no reason to publicly criticise them.
- Treat others as you'd like to be treated. How would you feel if someone called you an offensive name, or spread exaggerations or lies about you?
- If your grandmother would find it offensive or inappropriate, then don't publish it. This is a great general guide to life as well. If Grandma would be disappointed in what you publish, then the odds are that other people will be too.
- Ask permission before publishing photos of friends. They might not want to be plastered all over your Facebook page or Instagram account. Respect their views.
- If you are unhappy posing for a photo, say so. You never know where it might end up. It's much easier to ask for your photo not to be taken than to have to try to have it deleted from cameras, phone and the internet.
- Be aware of your own privacy and that of others. If a friend is going overseas, or going through a breakup, don't announce it to the world on your Facebook timeline. They may not want to share the details with anyone apart from you. This also goes for you – are you sure you really want to share the intimate details of your latest disease with the world?
- There are real-life consequences to what you do, say and share online. This includes reposting on tumblr and retweeting on Twitter. Friendships can break up; parents, schools and police can get involved. In the case of hate pages, there could be charges and/or court action.
Hopefully, parents and students will become more aware of the issues related to social media, and change their behaviour accordingly.
The Kew High School digital citizenship blog can be found at http://digitalcitizenship.global2.vic.edu.au.
Kew High School
Judith blogs at http://jway.global2.vic.edu.au