Busting the digital native myth

We are hearing more and more about the ‘digital native’ generation – young people who have grown up with a world of information and technology at their fingertips. But does this culture of being in natural surroundings breed the expectation that this generation are also safe in the environment.

Let’s take a few steps back…

It’s fair to say, my Dad knows a thing or two about computers. He had the opportunity in the 1970’s of operating a computer, which (without exaggeration) filled an office the size of your average classroom. Moving into the early 80’s and we had the raft of personal computers that came onto the market (for the nostalgic, these included the ZX81 through to the Amstrad CPC – we really were cutting edge in our house!). So when the world wide web arrived, we had that too.

Having seen the developments over the years, this generation has also understood the need to proceed with caution. Things didn’t always go right. So as each new technology came onto the market, so did the need to understand the risks and perhaps steer clear. So my Dad, despite being familiar with all the technologies, doesn’t have any social media accounts and is planning on keeping it that way.

Moving onto the next generation (that’s me) and things are a little different. I was lucky enough to have a mobile phone when I was 19, it was a Motorola – the one that looked like a brick (and weighed about the same). You could make calls on it and that was it. I remember life before the internet and actually having to go to the library if I wanted to research something. Now for me, online activity is something that I will happily engage with, but I know to have different passwords, understand that emails asking for my bank details are most likely phishing and I know exactly who all my Facebook friends are.

So what about these digital natives. I recently asked some young relatives how they could access the internet. They spent the next few minutes reeling off a list of phone, TV, Xbox, laptop and so on. So they do understand that they have a vast amount of access to the internet, but now, going back to my Dad, he tells me that he has had to re-install his computer twice because something has been downloaded or accessed by one of the grandchildren that had put a virus on his machine. One of the kids also has a Facebook account, but doesn’t know personally all the people on it (just in case, I got his parents to check out his account), and another is regularly inviting comments about her and her friends on her profile page.

These are the things that indicate that this digital native generation, while completely comfortable in the online world, are not aware of the risks that they are taking, not to mention the digital footprint they are leaving behind. Is this familiarity with the social media world actually putting them more at risk than the cautious generations before them? The technological times are moving so fast, that simply keeping up is hard enough without having to keep up with the dangers too.

Perhaps it’s not a generation of digital natives, but rather one of the digitally naïve.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on June 24, 2013 15:40

When your digital footprint follows you into the world of work

Paris Brown is the 17 year old working with Kent Police on youth liaison as Britain's first young police and crime commissioner. The Mail on Sunday looked through her Twitter account, going back three years, and found some offensive comments. Teenagers can be susceptible to tweeting or posting things online that they may later regret. Paris Brown had tweeted about her local pizza delivery firm, saying they needed to learn to speak English. She had used the word "fags" talking about people on television, referred to "pikeys", said she fancied making hash brownies and expressed a desire to want to "cut everyone around me". Whether this makes her unfit for her new job is a subject for debate in itself, but the case certainly goes to show that it pays to consider your digital footprint when you post comments online.

Officials hadn't checked Paris' social media profile prior to her appointment, but there are probably many 17-year-olds who have social media profiles that are not 100% blemish free. Paris has tearfully said that she "doesn't want to be judged on Tweets that were written a long time ago. They are stupid tweets but they should not affect my future career." But, like it or not, these things are likely to come back to haunt you.

The case illustrates the huge implications of social media and the tendency for it to be used to publish throwaway comments to a large and unknown audience. For young people, the temptation to use it to to vent, show off, try to attract attention or be funny is almost impossible to resist. That is why it is more crucial than ever that from an early age children are given the skills to navigate these uncharted waters, and to make sensible decisions about how to use social media via e-safety education.

Lesson idea

The Paris Brown case provides an excellent opportunity to discuss digital footprints with students. Ask them to read about the case online, then explore the following questions:

  • How many of them have written something online that could be offensive?

  • Do they think that Paris Brown is guilty of being racist and homophobic?

  • Why would someone write something like the comments Paris tweeted?

  • What tips would they give to other students as ways of preventing situations like this?

  • Which websites are most likely to cause the most damage when you post comments online?

  • How easy is it to remove or delete comments that you have tweeted, or posted online?

  • What are the key lessons that we can learn from Paris Brown's situation?

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on April 08, 2013 14:50

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