As teachers we are all aware of the online dangers that our students (and children) face. It is easy for us to channel; that fear into excessively controlling or prohibitive behaviour. It is more valuable to support teenagers with some knowledge and advice so that they can step out into the exciting and educational online world with a little bit of awareness. To use an analogy, every teenager will want to drive a car, we can’t stop them but we can do our best to make them as skillful and careful as possible. We will in some cases fail, but our only practical option is to try.
Some might argue that the issues for young people online are the same as they have always been. Bullying, scams and predatory behaviour have always been a part of our society. The difference is that information technology has amplified these problems, while also moving the crimes into a physical environment where the victim feels safe. People generally have strategies for dealing with criminal and antisocial behaviour out in the world, but they are now facing them in their private lives and homes. While the problems are not new, these two factors put them into a new context.
Teenagers are often trusting and overconfident at the same time.
- They are trying to establish their maturity and independence and are unwilling to admit that they are struggling.
- The risk taking behaviour teenagers are famous for is also expressed online.
- Teenagers crave acceptance and this can lead them to be excessively trusting of others.
- They are also early adopters of technology.
All these factors make cyber safety a particular issue for teenagers.
There are a number of resources available to help teachers approach these issues with students. I will list a few here, with a focus on Australian content.
The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) provide a web site on cyber safety at http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/ This site provides resources suitable for children, teenagers, teachers and parents. ACMA also have a cybersafety Facebook page, so by liking the Facebook page, or registering on the cybersmart web site, people can receive regular updates and alerts. ACMA also visit schools and present free sessions on cyber safety to students and/or parents.
ACMA also run a Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/ACMAcybersmart
ACMA have a blog at http://acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Cybersmart which has articles designed to facilitate discussion of the issues.
This video, entitled ‘TAGGED’, deals with issues of cyber bullying, sexting and online reputation in the context of a secondary school. It is an excellent introduction to the topic.
The reality is that social media is a part of teenage life, and it can be a very positive experience. Teenagers need to know how to use technology safely and effectively. With this in mind there is an “Easy guide to socializing online” at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/easyguide.
Cyber bullying involves posting defamatory or threatening material online. SMS messaging is also often used. Bullying has always been an unsavory aspect of teenage life, but with social networking and text messaging the bullying can be both more public and anonymous, increasing the damage and viciousness. Bullying typically makes the victim feel powerless and can lead to self esteem and mental health issues. Cyber bullying can be worse than face-to-face bullying because (1):
- the bully feels protected by anonymity
- it happens all day any day and the vistim feels they can’t escape by simply avoiding situations
- victims can be targetted in a usually safe place, such as at home
- the audience is large and the posted information can be permanent and widespread.
The cybersafety web site offers the following advice to the victim of the bullying (quote from ref. 1)
- don’t retaliate or respond, no matter how tempting
- block the person doing the bullying and change your privacy settings
- report it – click the report abuse button
- collect the evidence – keep mobile phone messages and print emails or social networking conversations
- talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend.
If a friend is being bulllied:
- don’t forward messages or pictures
- though you may not have started it, you will become part of the cyberbullying cycle if you forward messages
- stand up and speak out – tell a trusted adult
- support your friend and report the bullying.
If students are in need of help or advice in relation to online bullying they can contact kids help line.
As students use online resources they create a virtual picture of themselves for others to see (3).
Information online has a long life and really should be considered permanent. Facebook and blog posts are obvious contributors to the online reputation, but web sites visited and other online activities are also monitored and tracked by interested parties.
In the case of teenagers, things which might be considered a bit of fun may turn out to be an embarrassment in later life. It is important for students to be thinking about this.
These short videos illustrates the issues:
This video looks at the general issue of digital reputation and using common sense about the things we post online.
We can thoughtlessly damage the online reputation of our friends. What seems like a joke at the time might be seen in an entirely different light by those that are not in on the joke. This video can be used to illustrate this point.
To keep digital reputations under control it is important to:
- think before posting on social media and blogs (note that even if Facebook posts are only shared with friends, if friends ‘like’ a post it becomes visible to their friends as well)
- keep profile information private
- monitor tags in pictures and remove anything which might be embarrassing
- treat others as you would want to be treated
- don’t post photos with others in them unless you are sure they would be OK with it
Online sexual predators
Online activity can be a lot of fun, but there are those that will take advantage of this contact with young people (4). As a result students can find themselves involved in contact which makes them uncomfortable, or the victim of grooming.
Often the predator will present a false identity designed to appeal to the victim, at least in the early stages of grooming. The process often involves gradually introduces the victim to increasingly sexually explicit material. The predator may also applying emotional manipulation with flattery, romance and understanding, to build trust with the victim while simultaneously undermining the victim’s trust with family and true friends. This online activity is illegal in Australia.
In the majority of cases the online predator is known to the victim, but not always.
When a meeting is arranged the victim generally knows that the aim is for sexual activity, and this makes them feel some responsibility. It is important to emphasize that the victim has been groomed and manipulated and is not at fault, even if they met willingly.
To manage the risks schools should (quote from reference 4 ):
- Identifying vulnerable students, including those who take greater offline risks or behave inappropriately offline. These students should be referred to students support services, and be provided with connections to trusted and supportive staff at the schools.
- Referring a student who has participated in a sexual relationship or is distressed by online contact to student support services. They should also be provided with options for psychological support including school counselling and anonymous counselling through the Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, or the Cybersmart Online Helpline.
- Reporting to the Australian Federal Police if a student reports making contact with an individual online who appears to be grooming them. The AFP investigates suspected cases of online grooming.
- Booking a Cybersmart Detectives activity for upper primary and lower secondary students to enable them to experience a simulated online grooming scenario supported by lesson plans.
- Booking an Outreach Professional Development workshop for teachers and Internet Safety Awareness presentation for students and parents. These are free to all schools.
- Refer parents to the Guide to Online Safety which is a brief video resource with strategies to help parents explain the importance of avoiding unwanted contact to their children.
Useful online resources:
This item from A Current Affair could be used as a discussion starter.
http://www.theline.gov.au/ is an interactive site that offers young people advice in positive relationships.
http://www.teachers.reachoutpro.com.au/ offers online training modules and lesson ideas on youth mental health
Identity theft and scams
While cyber bullying is probably the issue of most concern to students, online scams are also an issue and teenagers are often trusting and prone to identity theft.
Identity theft involves using information about a person to adopt their identity with the aim of financial gain. Commonly it involves using a stolen identity to take out loans etc. A person who’s identity has been misused will find themselves receiving demands from institutions for the repayment of money, or even from police in regard to crimes committed in their name.
The information used to steal an identity might be gained from information posted innocently online, from responses innocently made to spam emails, or from malware/spyware (malicious software) infecting a computer.
To avoid identity theft:
- Use strong passwords including uppercase and symbols
- Don’t use the same password for all your logins
- Use secure (encrypted) websites when transacting online
- Don’t post personal information online
- Don’t respond to emails asking for personal details such as bank account numbers etc.
It is important to keep an eye on bank balances and credit card transactions and contact the bank immediately anything unusual occurs.
Scams involve tricking a user into handing over money. ACMA lists the following typical scams (2):
- Lottery – The scammer claims the recipient has won a substantial prize and asks them to pay a small fee to claim the prize. Unexpected fees then continue to arise.
- Phishing – Emails are sent from falsified or spoofed email addresses. Phishing emails claim to be from well-known financial institutions or telecommunications providers and direct recipients to a website that mimics the company’s real website. Phishing emails may also request confirmation of usernames and passwords. They are designed to allow the scammer access to the victim’s financial details such as credit card numbers, account names and passwords or other personal information.
- Advance Fee (or ‘Nigerian 419’) – These scams offer to pay a considerable sum of money to assist in transferring millions of dollars out of a foreign country for various legitimate sounding reasons. Similar to lottery scams, unexpected fees arise that must be paid before the money can be transferred.
- Mule – Prospective victims are sent attractive job vacancy adverts claiming to provide high pay for limited work. The job often involves transferring sums of money between accounts. This is money laundering and the recipient themselves may ultimately face criminal charges.
Adults have learned to be cautious of scams online, but school students are often new to this world and need to be reminded to be cautious. Early scams were very crude and the emails contained poor grammar and spelling, but scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and use professional looking web sites etc.
Advice on how to safely use social networking sites
Most people are familiar with Facebook and how to use it more safely. It is good advice to set everything so only friends can view posts. Users need to remember, though, that if a friend can see a post, then under certain conditions their friends can also see it. In addition, the privacy settings in Facebook are very complicated, so regardless of how users think their settings are, it is safest to assume that anything on Facebook is public.
Twitter is of course intended to be public, and people only tweet what they want everyone to see. The advice is to ‘count to ten’ before tweeting.
There is specific advice on using other sites such as Kik, Instagram and Snapchat at http://blog.iinet.net.au/safer-internet-day-2014/
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Cyberbullying.aspx (13/6/20013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Identity%20theft%20and%20scams.aspx (13/6/2013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Digital%20reputation.aspx (13/6/2013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Unwanted%20sexual%20contact.aspx (13/6/2013)