Demonstrating a digital footprint

We hear the phrase digital footprint a lot these days, for example the recent story of Paris Brown where her digital footprint had uncovered some inappropriate comments made several years earlier. But what is a digital footprint – well, put into a sentence, it is the trace of a persons online activity.

That said, what does this mean in reality? Everything that is typed, liked, tagged etc online leaves a trace behind and that becomes part of a digital footprint. Then add to that every time a person logs in or out of a website, uses mobile data on a phone, collects emails via a tablet, plays an online game and so on and so on and you can begin to see how a digital footprint is more than just the odd Tweet that we regret.

It’s not too many years ago that I remember learning the phrase ‘ego search’ (or ego surf). This wasn’t a complex psychological term, but simply the act of putting your name into a search engine and seeing if ‘you’ came up in the results. Back then it was somewhat of a challenge and indeed achievement if a search engine could find you. I recall pressing the search button and getting my name to appear twice in the results (ok, so it was actually three times, but the third one wasn’t me!).

Repeating the same exercise today I am faced with about 19 million results. Now, I’m not going to check every one of the 19 million to see how many are actually me, although I dare say, it will be more than two.

There are many parts of our digital footprint that are out of our control or just happen behind the scenes (like cookies or what other people say about us for example), but what is important is to make sure the things that are in our control are handled responsibly. It’s all too easy these days to make a comment on an online forum or social media platform, but what is easy to forget is that this comment will leave a permanent trace on a digital footprint.

To demonstrate both the scale of the digital footprint and also how everything leaves a trace, why not try typing your school name into Google and record the number of results. Some of these may include student social media accounts, directory listings and the school website pages, so it is also worth discussing this. Then, using the search tools, select a custom date range from several years ago and note the difference in both the volume and the nature of the listings.

Find more teaching suggestions in our E-safety Support Digital Footprint lesson plan.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on August 14, 2013 11:10

Sexting isn't just harmless fun

Last year, NSPCC reports found that the rate at which teenagers are being pressured to text and email sexually explicit pictures of themselves has accelerated in the last few years. These demands were also found to have come from peers rather than from adults or strangers.

A survey carried out by the US organisation, The National Campaign, found that:
• 20% of teenagers have sent nude or semi-nude pictures/videos of themselves.
• 39% of teenagers have sent sexually suggestive messages.
Teenagers send the majority of these sexts to boyfriends, girlfriends or other people they knew. However, 15% of teenagers who have sent nude/semi-nude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.

Prior research has shown that many teenagers have sent sexual texts, emails, images and videos. However many have not learnt what the risks are, and what the law says about sexting.

When BBC Reporters asked Tarporley High School Students for their views on sexting, 15-year-old Lizzie said: ‘I don't think the dangers of sexting are clear enough to young people. I think lots of young people think it's just for fun and there's a really dangerous side to it.’

Many teenagers and adults may think sexting can be exciting and fun, but there are many possible consequences, such as sending the sexual messages/images to the wrong person, the person you sent them to may share them, or the images/messages may accidentally be discovered by others if phones were lost. Another key issue regarding teens and children sending sexts is that youngsters can be vulnerable to be pornography charges because, when the sender and/or receiver is underage it is considered child pornography, making it illegal.

Sexting cases are often in the news, including the recent case of three school students who recorded mobile phone videos of drunken sex acts with fellow teens; authorities said they then shared them among themselves. These teenagers face up to 20 years in prison with the charge of child pornography.

It’s vital that children and teenagers are taught about the dangers and consequences surrounding sexting in school and at home. They may see it as fun, but if any of their images/messages are found not only is it likely they will be embarrassed, but they could also face serious charges.

If you would like to share your teaching tips on tackling this with your students, please add your comments below.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on July 05, 2013 13:57

The Student View

I've been working closely now with Digital Leaders for about 2 months now and it's been fascinating seeing how students work and engage with the internet and social media. As much as these are really good students and tech-savvy with ICT, it has been enthralling to see how they go about engaging with each other on the internet and using the tools available. The nature of this group also allows me to have more full and frank debates on the topic of e-safety outside of normal class discussions.

When discussing e-safety with the students, I was surprised to see how little they actually cared about this issue. They actually understood the idea of child protection, and stated that they had been told this from a really young age. I guess this is the same principal as 'don't talk to strangers' in primary school, and by the time the students had reached year 9/10 they actually didn't seem that bothered. One of the things I did ask them was how they thought they were perceived on the internet (the idea of digital dirt) and again, this didn't seem to bother them. However, when I suggested finding an open student profile and displaying it in the classroom they seemed mortified, so maybe this is a way of showing them how they show themselves to the wider world.

However, I also discussed with them something we covered this year in the areas of viruses, spyware, malware etc. and they said this was one of the more interesting takes on e-safety that they have had this year. They found this more insightful and said they were more likely to think about how they use Facebook in the future than before with the idea of online predators (I did a starter activity on Digital Forensics and the students really loved it!)

Of course, online predators is one aspect of e-safety not to be overlooked, but maybe we should challenge how we approach this topic. The idea that people are watching you on the internet is a scary thing, but nowadays with the sheer amount of information that we (all) are used to putting online, maybe we should revisit the idea of e-safety. Should the idea be to tell students not to put personal details online OR should we teach them what happens when we do and let them make their own educated decision?

Written by Ben Gristwood on March 25, 2013 14:59


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