Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Privacy, Facebook and student naivety

Presenting a session on Internet Security Issues at our school's Crossroads program recently, I remarked to the Year 11 students that if my dad had done something extremely foolish when he was a teenager, it might, maybe have made it to radio and newspapers.  If I had done ditto, you can add television to the mix.  Still large corp. media outlets, though, not necessarily aware of or able to capture an individual life easily or quickly. 

Now, if they do something extremely foolish, it can land on YouTube via a mobile/cell phone, or on Twitter, within seconds.  Such is the changed world they need to take account of.  Their foolishness can be far more readily found by potential employers doing a bit of googling than would have been possible ten, twenty, more years ago.

A recent NY Times article discusses the change Facebook has made, so that ALL status messages are now by default, PUBLIC - ie available for anyone to see - unless the Facebook user actively chooses otherwise.  Default is public.  Private requires action.  Previously, the default setting has been 'private'.

How many students will make the change?  Or care?  How many should?  More than will.  I find students interestingly (expectedly?) naive about such things, far more trusting than they should be.  It's part of being young and bulletproof, maybe.  I regularly discuss internet privacy issues with students informally, as well as on the more formal occasions such as offered by the Crossroads program.  The school system in which I work has, at present, blocked social networking sites such as Facebook so they aren't available when logging in at school, but students are certainly using these outside school hours - and I know that there are schools/systems where social networking sites are used in educational contexts.

How aware will students be that something they don't mean to be public may have legal implications?  Unintended and possibly serious consequences?  A whole scale of possibilities, from the agonies of social embarrassment to active/passive cyber-bullying to legal action for libel?

Given that the new social media are new to parents and teachers, the responsibility for understanding the implications of this - and conveying wise advice - is shared by home and school.  But do parents and teachers understand and convey?  And, if they don't, how bitter might be the lessons some of our kids learn from unexpected experience?



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