In many ways, I don’t pay too much attention to personal privacy on Facebook. I have set my filters relatively high and I know I have signed up to post information to a public site, but most importantly, I use good judgement before posting which I think is one of the best filters of all. Irritated with work? Not going to write about it on FB. Mad at my husband – nada on my newsfeed. Why? Because that is not the forum in which I choose to air my frustrations. I do join groups based on my interests but again, I am mindful of how much information the people in these groups need.
This is not the approach everyone takes. I read about a case in Baltimore, Maryland about a 12 year old girl who was abducted and raped after her attacker initiated contact (which she reciprocated) through the live chat channel on her XBox. Her mom said she knew her child was chatting online but wasn’t aware of nature of the conversations. Prior to her abduction, she engaged in another chat with another user in which she expressed remorse over the depth of information she had shared. After reading The Myth of Online Predators (which is over 5 years old) I would say that while we don’t want to solely focus on the doom and gloom of potential predators, I do think that the evolution of the internet is happening at such a fast pace, that we do have to continue to be vigilant rather than seek solace in the statistics quoted in the above article.
According to police in the Baltimore case:
Kik has become quite popular with minors, and anyone who knows a Kik account name can send messages to that user, which has made Kik an apparent hit with pedophiles, according to anecdotes from law enforcement officials across the country and around the world. One self-acknowledged pedophile told New Jersey’s The Trentonian that Kik was especially effective for obtaining pornographic images of children, particularly when combined with an app called Hit Me Up, which is no longer available in the US iOS app store.
If you take a look at the Kik website, it looks harmless. I think this is where the value of strong internet safety teaching comes in. Students need to be aware of the potential dangers and act responsibly even when parents or teachers are not watching.
At the same time, when parents ask me about how to keep their kids safe online, one of the first things I suggest is having computers used in public spaces in the home – not the bedroom. While this is not obviously a one-stop solution, I think it creates an atmosphere in which parents and children can co-exist and hopefully not get so deeply into inappropriate chat situations.
One of the things I talk about with my students with regard to privacy is the idea of optional contributions. There are so many ways in which websites can seek out our personal information. One of them is to add an asterisk* to indicate the field must be filled in. Other fields are either left without an asterisk or with the word (optional) beside them. I tell my students to think about why they may or may not fill these fields in. Primarily, my argument is that if they don’t really need the information, why give it to them?
Another is the chat forum. How much time spent here is too much? We all know that the internet can “suck you in” – one click to another…but how much is too much for our students?
Take a look at what happens in “an internet minute” and you will see that this is a platform that is mind-blowingly huge. Trying to block every user with ill-intentions is not going to happen. Teaching our children to make smart choices, that is something we can (and should) do.