Anonymous Comment Sites

Typing on a computer keyboardThere has been much said in the news recently about the tragic consequences of the anonymous comment site Ask.fm – a high profile site popular with teenagers. But what is it about this sort of site that attracts people into making vicious comments about their ‘friends’, peers and indeed colleagues - we must remember that this domain is not exclusively that of today’s youth but also involves adults too.

To try to understand the psychology of this phenomenon, I took a look at another of these sites, which boasts on the home page that the website is “100% anonymous”. I don’t need to register to explore further, just click a button to claim I am over 18. So now I’m in.

I’m now presented with a selection of four recent posts, three of which appear to be about school pupils which is interesting given the age ‘restriction’ and two of the four include some colourful language describing the person in question - well that’s encouraging, now I know what’s expected of me.

So I click the button to post my own ‘gossip’. I’m asked for my email address (mickey.mouse@disney.com it is then) and then I’m free to make up my own gossip (as suggested by the site itself).

Now it gets a bit more serious, I have to tick a box to say that my comment is not about someone under 18 – well I have already seen that that’s been done before, so tick. Next, that it isn’t threatening, pornographic, racist or otherwise objectionable – seen that too, so tick again. Finally that it doesn’t contain private information – OK, I promise.

And that’s it. My disparaging remarks about Pluto and Minnie are there for them and the world to see. Regardless of whether the comments are true or not, they are public and I can’t take them back. But that’s OK surely, because it was anonymous so it’s not really hurting anyone – particularly me right? There will be no repercussions for me and I can always deny it if questioned. It was all too easy.

Perhaps then, it’s the ease and speed at which a comment can be made public that contributes to the impact of this sort of site. Making a spur of the moment comment after a classroom spat (or staffroom spat for that matter), could be regretted moments later, but the damage is already done and can easliy lead to cyber bullying.

It seems that there is no protection given to those on the receiving end. Yes the site has a means of user-moderation, but surely by the time the comment is live and has been seen by just about anyone who is interested, it's too late?



If you have any thoughts on this type of site, we would love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below – we do only ask for your name and comment, but we do moderate all comments before allowing them to be published on the site.

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 12, 2013 11:12

Are you online offline?

For large swathes of the global population, the notion of whether a person is considered ‘Online’ is somewhat of a redundant question.

The relatively rapid migration from dial-up Internet connection, to perpetually connected broadband and mobile wireless high speed data access has had a radical impact on what it means to be ‘online’.

In the not too distant past, the phrase “Are you online?” was a euphemistic enquiry as to whether or not one had entered in to some kind of contract with an Internet Service Provider.

More recently the same phrase could be a question asking whether a person was actually logged in or connected to any given service at that point in time.

Recently I have seen a trend which has confused things further. It seems that the term ‘Online’ is being used to refer to something that happens through a Web browser as if somehow other platforms interacting with remote services over the Internet are in some way not ‘online’.

For instance, it is now quite common for a TV advert to end with a phrase such as “Order online, or use our smartphone app”. This is quite meaningless. Strictly speaking it is the phone itself that is online i.e. the point of connection, but regardless of this arguably pedantic point, neither the advertiser’s Web site or their App can be used for ordering without being ‘online’.

Does the lack of precision on the use of the term ‘online’ here confuse? Do people think that they are not ‘online’ if they are using an app? Does it matter? Possibly not and maybe the less technical term of being ‘connected’ will suffice.

However, there is a very interesting question about perception exposed here. For instance, although a Web page open within a browser may refresh with updated information from time to time or even in real time while it is open (most in fact do not), closing the browser or navigating away from that site severs the communication.

This is not true of an App. Although not all apps will need to exploit the mechanism, a modern smart phone app once opened is often still 'running' and processing in the background even when you switch your attention to another app. Further, modern smart phones tend to have features within the operating system which allow the phone itself to interact with some parts of the app’s online data source even if the app is not currently running. This is the mechanism which for instance provides alert notifications from Facebook or ebay.

This is all further complicated by the fact that many people, whether they realise it or not still have an online presence even if they were in the middle of a forest, out of range of any cell connectivity with all their devices switched off, batteries removed and placed in a lead lined box and buried in a field.

This is because many of the utilities and services with which we engage on a daily basis, are still working on our behalf even when we are not connected to them. For instance, our Facebook profiles are still available for people to read and to post to, your online photo albums are still accessible, your blog posts can still attract comments. ‘You’ can be invited to events, and listed with others on an ‘attendees’ list. Depending on your profile setting you may instantly friend or follow back anyone that requests to connect with you. Recommendation engines from online shops, music on demand services or movie streaming services are churning data preparing lists of content they think you’ll be interested in - they may even automatically send you an email about their findings.

In short, the online ghost of your data and meta-data still reflects your presence and represents your likes, activities and habitual interactions for people and software alike to engage with. When you post a reply to someone’s comment on Facebook, the feeling is more akin to a direct contact with them than for instance sending an email, even if your ‘friend’ isn’t currently logged in to Facebook. This is because the context of the interface personifies your ‘friend’ through their trail of activities. Of course you have a great deal of control over these things if you take a bit of care over your service settings.

Additionally, so much of what happens in the physical world is driven by online data and decisions made online, that the notion of being in a position where you are unaffected by things ‘online’ is fallacy.

From an E-safety perspective it is important that people understand the nature of perpetual connectivity and the fact that direct engagement with a service is no longer the only driver of activity.

Putting up an umbrella may shelter you from the rain but it does not stop it raining, nor does it protect you from the effects of the river about to burst it’s banks a mile away. Likewise, switching off a device does not terminate your online activity, or your involvement in the activity of others.

A recent naive post I saw on twitter suggested that the poster had no “sympathy for those moaning about cyber bullying” because they should “just turn off their computer.” Logging off of a social network does not curtail cyber bullying or neutralise the waves that it causes in the physical world. Like many aspects of E-safety, problems are best tackled by action and education in the real world.

These are tough concepts, but digital communications technology is such a useful tool and has such positive potential that it is worth the effort to understand and to ensure that the first principles are taught to our children so that they can apply the understanding as technology continues to evolve.

Media studies was once derided by many as a ‘Mickey Mouse subject’. However, in a society where mass media has such a profound influence on our perceptions, understanding and opinions, can any rational person really argue against the value of educating people to critically evaluate the messages, meaning, contextualisation and veracity of the information we receive and the motivations of those presenting it?

Likewise, in a world where so much of our interaction and engagement is mediated by communications technology, how can we not recognise the importance of teaching the fundamental underpinnings and the modes and models of the interaction?



Photo from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 04, 2013 17:31

E-safety Dynamic and Proactive Policies, Practices and Procedures through Dedicated Time for Lead Teachers

E-safety, as an aspect of the school curriculum, is a dynamic entity and an essential component in safeguarding.

Consequently, e-safety policies and practices can be viewed as having two strands. First of all, known risks in relation to privacy, contact with strangers and accessing inappropriate material (such as violence, pornography and hate sites, for example) remain a constant. In one respect, the key messages that need to be communicated to children are static and unchanging. For instance, not divulging personal details and contact information via social media and networking websites and the steps children can take when confronted with online material and communications that make them feel uncomfortable.

However, the rate of technological developments and digital applications demands e-safety policies and practices need to evolve and progress as and when new issues and concerns surface. It is this balance between static, or core e-safety education (which can be covered as a series of planned assemblies, an appropriate scheme of work and day-to-day highlighting of issues), and an appropriate reactive and proactive response, the non-static nature of e-safety, that poses the significant challenge for schools.

Let us take a relatively recent example. Sending photographs via text message, email and sharing online through social networking websites has been with us for a while now. It is reasonable to suggest that the potential for images to be copied, altered, forwarded and put into the public domain (whether for positive purposes or driven by more malicious intentions) is known and understood. With the advent of Snapchat, digital communications can be sent with the assurance they will effectively ‘self-destruct’ after several seconds and be deleted from devices and servers. Schools are then in the position of needing to rapidly respond to a form of digital communication and sharing of media that has the potential to undermine previous work with children on e-safety: if the evidence of cyber-bullying or inappropriate communications doesn’t exist, then all that is left is the impact on victims and the courage of others not to act as bystanders.

So, where does the static and dynamic model of e-safety leave those who develop policies and practices in school? Clearly, there is a need for the lead on e-safety to have sufficient time to be able to respond to more established issues in this area as well as emerging issues or anticipated safeguarding problems by having a current knowledge and understanding of technological and digital developments.

An e-safety policy should acknowledge that the lead has dedicated time to ensuring practices are proactive and not simply reactive. There is a need to protect time for the lead to regularly review and update Acceptable Use Policies for both staff and children as well as consider how parents and carers can be made aware of potential dangers and risks as technological and digital developments continue to progress at a rapid pace. Dissemination of information related to new risks and responsible use issues also requires the lead to invest time in continued professional development to ensure all colleagues have the knowledge and understanding to address e-safety.

Of course, stating that e-safety policies and procedures are in place (from a dedicated lead with adequate time for the role through to parental engagement) is different from accounting for the impact of steps taken. Evidence of impact, both qualitative and quantitative, is necessary to evaluate the success of e-safety education within the school to inform future priorities and demonstrate to OFSTED that this area of safeguarding has a high profile and the policies, practices and procedures in place are embedded. Once again, this brings us back to the need for an e-safety lead with adequate time dedicated to this area of work in schools.

So, how can this be taken forward in practice? A good starting point is to audit the current position using the questions below. Where an aspect is not in place or needs review and attention, then this should form the basis of action planning and projecting the time necessary to address these areas for development.

  • Is there a dedicated e-safety lead in place?

  • Does the school have an e-safety policy? Is it updated on a regular basis and in response to emerging issues?

  • Is there acceptable use document for children? What about a user agreement for staff?

  • Has there been staff training related to e-safety? Does this include all staff groups? For example, teachers, leadership and management as well as support staff.

  • Is there a proactive approach to getting e-safety messages across to children? For example, a planned series of assemblies, a scheme of work and so on.

  • Are parents and carers involved in the school’s e-safety work?
  • By establishing a baseline in relation to these areas, formulating a plan of action, schools can therefore progress towards stronger e-safety provision and develop clarity in the impact on the school, staff, pupils and parents and carers.



    If you would like to share your thoughts on the issues raised in this article, please let us know by using the comments section below

    Written by Jazz Williams on November 28, 2013 11:36


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