From private to public

Sign posts with Public and PrivateFacebook has been criticised a lot this week for what many perceived as a privacy breach. Users thought they began noticing ‘private messages’ from 2008 and 2009 appearing on their timelines. Facebook denies these claims and states that the messages are simply wall posts that have a different appearance because they were created with an older version of Facebook without the ability to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ (in Mann, McNeill & Atkin, 2012, para.7).

Despite Facebook’s denial, many users still believe they have found evidence of a breach.

Many people panicked when they realised something they possibly shouldn’t have said can now be seen by anyone who can access their Facebook timelines. This incident begs the question – what happens when private turns public?

How much information does your child put on their social media accounts? It is one thing to teach them not to divulge too much information on a private account, but have you thought about what else would be available if all the privacy settings were to suddenly disappear and leave everything in the public’s eye?

It is a good idea to teach children to think about the information they put onto social media as being completely public. This will ensure they think carefully before they type or upload a photo.

A permanent record

All friends have little arguments between themselves, but what if they moaned about it with someone and it was recorded and played back to the friend in question? How would they feel if that friend was able to hear it? How would they feel if a future employer was able to access their gossipy conversations? How would they feel if their future children knew everything they got up to as teenagers? … “What on earth were you doing in that photo, Dad?”

Social media is like a permanent recording. Everything on the Internet is persistent and while you may think your child’s account may have the strongest privacy settings available, technology is not 100% reliable. Things do go wrong.

Think before you type

A group of seventh grade students was asked to write a list of how they think they should behave online. I think you’ll find the list pretty impressive and I recommend showing it to your kids.

So let’s make sure our kids really know how to talk to each other on social media respectfully and imagine that one day everyone is going to read about it, because you never know, one day maybe they will.

References:

Mann, A, McNeill, S, & Atkin, M,. (2012). Users vow to desert Facebook amid latest scandal. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-04/users-vow-to-desert-facebook-amid-latest-privacy-scandal/4295964

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Learning from tragedy

I remember driving out of the parking area at work to pick up my daughter. I had received a phone call from the school saying she was feeling sick and could I come and get her. My daughter needed her mummy. I rushed to get her immediately, like a mother bear eager to protect her cub. As I steered out of the drive way I noticed the clouds getting grey and tiny spots of water slowly tapping my windscreen. It was going to be a cold, stormy night.

A solemn voice came on the radio; it was the afternoon news reporter. She said that a teenage girl had been missing for two days and it was suspected she had gone to meet someone she had just met on Facebook. I clearly remember closing my eyes and silently praying that it was not true; that perhaps she had run away to a friend’s house.

I had no reason to have a vested interest in this girl. Other than the fact that I am a mother. And a human.

Although my two girls are still very young, I knew that one day I would have to face the reality that they too would be branching out into cyberspace and coming across people they don’t know in ‘real life’. This could happen to anyone.

The next day there was an update on the teenager. She had been murdered by the stranger she met on Facebook. The charming young man she was talking to in cyberspace turned out to be an experienced predator that lures young girls in with fake social media accounts.  I knew right then and there that safety on the Web was my calling. I had to learn everything there was to know about keeping my children safe in cyberland.

In real life, I teach my daughters to be aware of their surroundings, not to talk to strangers, and to always be kind to others and report any bullying they may come across. These rules apply on the Web too.

When the lines between the virtual and physical world are blurred we can have tragic circumstances like the one this poor teenager faced. Somewhere this teenager’s mother is longing for her child, longing to hold her in her arms again, longing for the ability to keep her child safe. I vow to learn from this woman’s tragedy and start guiding my own children’s digital footprints.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being cybersmart

The closer my daughter gets to starting school, the more I panic about her being exposed to the World Wide Web. Obviously I am not going to let her be on the computer alone yet but it doesn’t feel like it will be long before she is whining for mum to stop peering over her shoulder.

I have been visiting the Cybersmart site quite a bit to keep myself educated and see what sort of things I can teach her. One great tool is the Cybersafety Help Button  which you can download to your computer and your child can click on it any time they feel they need help, advice, or to report something that is concerning them on the Web. It can help them feel that they are not alone in cyberspace. I will definitely be downloading this for all of my Internet enabled devices!

Now if only there was a button I could click on when my kids decide to misbehave. Would be handy to have someone magically appear and give me help then!

Too much screen time

An interesting article in the New York Times mentions that kids are now spending much more time now than ever in front of a screen. This is not just television they are talking about – iPads and iPhones are becoming increasingly popular with little kids. Toddlers. Babies even. Yes, I am guilty of this – telling myself that it is ok for the kids to play with my iPad because they are all (mostly) educational games and stories that they play with.

This article has made me second guess myself. Am I really just encouraging my kids to sit and stare at a screen all day instead of going outside? It’s not like they are using the iPad in the middle of the day when it is sunny out – just at night when mummy and daddy are trying to get chores finished.

I guess it could look like it is being used as a babysitter but I tend to disagree. I don’t think exposing children to technology at such a young age is a bad thing at all as long as you ensure they are ‘well rounded’. No, I don’t mean feed them pizza until they burst. I mean all things in small doses are not going to hurt them. As long as they spend plenty of time playing outside and learning to use their own imaginations to entertain themselves then surely a bit of technology isn’t going to hurt.

What do you think? Do your children get “too much screen time”?

Cyberbullying

Since studying more about the Internet in the last few months, I have read quite a bit of research conducted by danah boyd. Recently, she wrote a blog post about cyberbullying. I encourage you to read the links she has attached to it; they are very thought provoking. At the risk of doing her writing an injustice, I will summarise her meaning very briefly. Her new paper is the result of research into the rhetoric used when adults talk about bullying and how this can cause teenagers to disassociate themselves from the idea that they are being ‘bullied’ or are ‘bullying’ others. ‘Drama’ has become the more empowering term they use. As I have said, please read danah’s blog post to understand it as it is intended.

Bullying – whether it is online or not – is such a big fear of mine. I have always tried to build both my daughters’ self esteem up so that they will have the ability to cope with future difficulties. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily work. They could become the most confident teenagers in the world, but it only takes one snide comment to take all of that away when you are young and confused about your place in the world. What is the answer?

This subject also brings me to a question I have always agonised over (and of course this does not require any REAL answer): Would I rather my child be bullied or be a bully? (Obviously, “neither” is the preferred option).

“Why on earth do you ask yourself that?”, I hear you say. To be honest, I don’t know. It is just one of the things I ponder over when I hear terrible cases of bullying. Of course no one wants their child to be bullied – but no one wants their child to bully others either. It can also have a snowball effect: those who are bullied may bully others in order to gain some sort of empowerment back.

Let me be clear – I have not done any of my own official research on this so I have no real ‘authority’ on it. I am going by my own observations in high school (yes, I can remember that far back, thank you! :-)). I know this for sure – I will be watching over anything my kids write on social media platforms they use as teenagers. I will be asking questions. I will be in their face. I will probably be annoying. I will definitely do something if I find out they are being bullied.

Online identity issues

The abstract in this blog post by Tama Leaver sent shivers down my spine as I realised that everything I write on the Web about my children is becoming a part of their ‘Online Identity’ without them even knowing. I had briefly considered this issue on a small scale years ago when I would write in forums under a pseudonym. When you’re pregnant you aren’t thinking about the little one as a person yet, and certainly not as a ‘future online identity’. You are too busy thinking about morning sickness and impending labour pains.

I don’t plan to write anything on here that would be potentially embarrassing to them. I try to write these posts as if I were reading them directly to my children, mother, and boss. I figure that way I won’t say anything ‘wrong’ (not that I have anything ‘wrong’ to say anyway 😉 ).

I’d be interested to know how much other people think about what they write about their kids online and how it may affect them when they get older. Imagine a teenager reading about the terrible things they got up to as a child and how their parents would laugh at their embarrassing moments. Their future universities and bosses will be able to see all of this too.

When we write about our kids online, let’s never forget they will be choosing our nursing homes one day!