Well, yes it is indeed a dangerous world (wide web) out there. Not just for Hobbits in Middle-earth, but for everyone in today’s world who ventures into cyberspace. However, we would like to offer a bit of the ‘Shire’ to you readers.
So, let’s get down to brass tacks about the dangers we’ve spoken about and how to help our school communities be good netizens.
From the Shire to Share: When Sharing Isn’t Caring
I (Nic) have previously written about ‘Sharenting’ (parents over-sharing images of their children). My friend founded an app, TinyBeans, to safely ‘sharent’ images and videos of one’s families. “Hoorah!” I thought. “No more disturbing images of children in my newsfeed!” Sadly, my newsfeed illustrates that apps like TinyBeans haven’t been snapped up by all parents. Some are still posting pictures without giving it careful"The cute little babies in the bathtub have grown up - and they are angry." thought.
The problem is that once an image is online, it is in the public domain - forever. Anyone can ‘see’ the images parents are sharing, and so can their ‘friends’ on social media websites. We need to remind parents that ultimately, once they share an image, they cannot guarantee where it will end up and which audience(s) will then ‘own’ it.
Schools need to be cautious as well. Today educators can choose from a huge range of excellent apps designed to share images and information with parents. Yet some schools still engage with unsafe sharing practices. Parents tell us that, despite signing the relevant Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policies, some schools have gone ahead and shared images of their children in the local press and via school communication apps without their permission.
So what makes the simple safeguarding of children online such a tall order? Let’s break down the issues one at a time.
A: Oversharing / ‘Sharenting’: When does sharing children’s images cross the line into jeopardising a child’s privacy rights?
The internet is now over 25 years young. The cute little babies in the bathtub have grown up - and they are angry. They have to live with digital footprint their parents created when they shared their adorable photos with the world. In some cases, these images are being used for bullying purposes with their school peers. The image can also end up as search engine fodder for future employers - who Google first and interview afterwards.
As the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner (OCEC) senior education adviser, Kellie Britnell, says, ”In some ways, this is a new world and people just have not had the time to think about how they could be violating their child's rights to privacy.”1 We agree!
B: The Question of Digital Privacy and Ownership.
Who ‘owns’ the images of our children and students? Although many parents and educators are well aware of safety issues in the real world, they sometimes seem blissfully unaware of safety issues of the cyber-world. As adults, we need to think about the images (still or moving) we ‘take’ of our children. We need to be responsible and protect our young people. We also need to ask children whether they’re comfortable with the images we post––ones that show them cavorting about on vacation or going to their first big dance. When those same children turn into young adults, over-sharing can lead to body images issues, cyber-bullying (in either being the bully or the victim). It’s up to us to be sensitive adults who keep one eye on the future. We need to be cognizant of how images of our children that seem cute now can be harmful when they morph into ‘tweens and teens.
Geotagging is another problem facing schools. Images of students in uniform is one of the biggest issues when it comes to child safety. Why? As we know, a quick screen shot means that anyone can ‘keep’ any image they see (even if the app deletes a shot). As long as you can capture a quick picture, it is ‘yours’.
Also sharing an image sends out a lot of information through geotagging. A parent or teacher sharing an image also shares key information about that child - their name, their school logo/position. An image can also pinpoint where a child is (longitude and latitude) at a particular time.
Similarly, when students who share images of themselves (without privacy rights on Snapchat or Instagram) they create the same problem. What to do? For more information, see the article published by The Independent, which gives five reasons not to post images of students in school uniform.
C. The myth that children are Digital ‘Natives’.
So. I (Nic) wildly disagree with the idea that children are digital natives. The internet was not “designed with children in mind” as the Children’s Commissioner’s Digital Taskforce reported (Jan 2017). While we can agree that children are very good at gaming, gossiping and participating in ‘leisure’ activities, we also have agree that it has all gone a bit Lord of the Flies.
Teens are not all writing codes of conduct or necessarily learning how to code. Often they are simply ‘hanging out’. While socialising online can be an enjoyable experience, more and more we hear about dark deeds online. Things have moved quickly from associating Facebook Live with Candace Payne’s lovable giggling Chewbacca, for example, to the live streaming of the abuse and torture of a mentally disabled Chicago teenager.
In short, in today’s world the most awful experiences of a teenager’s life can now be seen, streamed and shared, including bullying and other disturbing forms of abuse.
What to Do?
Our main advice is to be vigilant about protecting our children. Take e-safety as a safeguarding priority and self-assess your policies, settings and management of all things online.
Here are some ideas for you to implement right now.
1. Safe Sharing is Caring.
Many parents feel that because their social media settings are ‘safe’ that their ‘friends’ will be too. The safest ways to share online are in closed apps. If you do use Facebook or Instagram, have a look at their privacy and parent guides. Hold e-safety information sessions in person, online and via classroom newsletters to keep the lines of communication open. Ask your more tech-savvy parents to help (or us!).
We can all learn from schools that are excellent examples of how to take the lead in informing parents about the risks of sharing images of students online. This is how one school in West Sussex does it. We particularly like how they reference the dangers of students sharing images of themselves.
“For instance, a picture of a child with friends in school uniform identifies the school that the uniform originated from, and gives information on where a student is likely to be at certain times of the day. In the wrong hands this is dangerous information.” The Regis School, West Sussex.
The more you reach out to parents, the more opportunities you will have to share information about e-safety. Five additional tools from Common Sense Media to help you reach out and stay connected can be found here.
2. Protect Children’s Identities
Another way you can help your community be good netizens is by illustrating how other countries are protecting their digital identities. In France, anyone caught uploading images of someone else without consent can face a fine of up to 45,000 Euros and a year in prison. The rest of the world is catching up with this way of thinking. Discuss this topic with your students and include a few pointers in home learning activities to help spread the message.
3. Create Home/ School Agreements
Many ‘parent engagement’ apps encourage Early Years / Primary schools to take shots of small groups of children and share them with the relevant families. However, what if one of the parents feels he or she doesn’t want to share this image with their social network? How does this objection affect a school’s safeguarding policy? Our advice is to get ALL parents signed up to understanding the dangers of sharenting - and never share images of children online without parental permission.
Be a leader in your school by helping to create a clear social media policy. Start by illustrating how you plan to safely share images and ask parents to follow suit. Ensure all teachers in your building follow safe guidelines to the letter and respect every family’s decision. Update your guidelines annually with an eye toward the latest practice in this area. You can, for example, bookmark NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre on your browser to stay up-to-date.
4. Find the Best Home/ School Communication Apps for Your School
In terms of you parents and school sharing information, there is a range of secure"Ask parents first what it is they want from an app." apps (which I have written about here) for schools to use to create a dialogue around learning in partnership with parents and students. Ask parents first what it is they want from an app. Do they want to be able to make private comments to their teachers like ClassDojo? Do they want it to translate messages into 50+ languages like Seasaw? Do they want the app to support other needs, like funding school trips/lunches like Remind? Once you’ve zeroed in on a few key apps, sign up for a free trial. If you want to engage the entire school community, find an app that will wear well over time.
5. Safe Social Media Apps
It can be useful to introduce social media apps to the students - rather than them discovering their own or, worse, adult apps. GoBubble is a secure app aimed at children under 13, designed to deny opportunities for unsafe sharing of material. How? “Because it puts the child’s school at the centre of their social media network. The school signs its pupils up, with parental approval, and children can safely talk to children in their own class, school, or even with children the same age in schools around the world”, according to the creators. It can be used with children as young as 7 and has been awarded a PEGI 3 rating (the safest age rating available from the governing body - Pan European Gaming Information). It be accessed through the eCadets webpage (for free or for a small annual of cost to download it onto a device).
If all this sounds scary to you, it’s helpful to remember that we’re the adults. And, if you are not sure what is right when it comes to technology and e-safety - educate yourself. A teacher cannot teach what he or she doesn’t know. Then we can work with parents and help them structure children’s experiences with media in ways that take adventure of all the opportunities new tools present, and limit the potential for harm.
In other words, harm can be minimized by being good netizens.
Let’s do all we can to help young people “step into the road and keep their feet,” as Bilbo would say.
How do you handle e-safety in your school? Let us know below.