As a teacher, I worried about my students and the world they face. As a parent, I worry about my own children and how they will navigate society and ever-changing social norms and relationships. One of the growing concerns I have is in regards to privacy and public information.
Are we giving away too much information about ourselves and leaving ourselves vulnerable to dangerous situations or attacks? A colleague made a point the other day about stickers some people have on their cars. As I drive around I see proud parents celebrating their children with window decals. What do I know now just by looking at that sticker?
Something innocent and unremarkable can be used for malicious purposes. You never really know the intent in a stranger’s mind. It is always a good idea to carefully consider what information you allow to be visible to the public. With children and teenagers, this is becoming especially critical in regards to social media.
As a social platform, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others are great for reaching out to friends and sharing life with those who might not be around on a regular basis. This can be a good thing for staying connected, but there are dangers. These social sites are becoming the favorite targets for hackers, identity thieves, and predators.
Research has shown that there are more than 1.6 billion social media users online worldwide and that 72% of teens have established online profiles. Nearly half of them have public profiles that are viewable to anyone! We can imagine the risks at this point. Those risks, unfortunately, are reality in far too many cases. Teens with open public profiles are at greater risk to receive messages from strangers or be harassed by others. Students can help protect themselves with a little bit of knowledge. Social media sites have privacy settings for a reason. Many people never check these settings and stay with the defaults. Options such as location tracking, tagging, information viewable to the public, and what can or cannot be seen by specific people all need to be carefully considered. It is vital that parents and children understand and activate the security features available for most sites. Parents should regularly check their child’s online activity and keep and open discussion about content and threats.
One very useful tool is not downloadable software, but a simple test to gauge how well you know someone and if you should accept their friend request. Fake profiles are created all the time by people who do not want their true intentions known. Should you accept every request? Ask yourself a few questions first.
With that thought, how much information are you giving away? If you check your location in a Facebook post, such as the restaurant you are currently at, you have given away some critical information.
When posting on social media, always consider what you want others to know. More importantly, what someone could do with that information?
Many students have very active online social lives. So what can we do? Social media hazards range from harassment and inappropriate postings, to spam, scams, and phishing. Many of the online threats are the same, and in some cases worse, than the off-line environment. Allowing students to explore and discuss the full consequences, good or bad, about their posts and online activity may lead them to safer practices online. Here are a few ideas on how to address some of these issues in the classroom.
The greatest tool we can give our students is awareness. Helping them see the possibilities is the first step in learning and protection. NICERC offers several different approaches to help students develop a sense of awareness regarding their actions and information. In Cyber Literacy and Cyber Literacy 2, the liberal arts material takes students on an introspective and social journey that exposes students to the realities of our technologically advancing world. I encourage you to explore what is available. If you would like access to Cyber Literacy or Cyber Literacy 2, you can request access to our free curricula here.