The risks associated with technology are about human behaviour far more than they’re about the technology itself. Bullying, talking to strangers and underage behaviour all took place long before the internet was invented. However, with the internet it’s true that the impact of these actions can now be greater and spread further.
Social networks are a key area where e-safety risks exist. Social media sites are very popular with young people and encourage creativity rather than passive technology use. Users can have avatars, profiles and more to express their personality. They can share content such as videos, music and photos.
Whilst all this offers many benefits, there are also obvious risks.
Most social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are age-restricted. However, this is taken on trust and there is no verification process. This means that many young people choose to use these sites even if they are under age.
Although profile privacy settings can be managed on most social networking sites, many young people keep their profile open for anyone to view, rather than just people that they know. Because profiles can be so detailed and include photographs, this means the user may be identified or contacted directly via their profile.
Young people may risk their own safety and that of others when they:
- Upload illegal or offensive content to their online space
- Post content which could cause reputational damage to them or others
- Breach IP rights or copyright
- Bully or harass others online
- Post potentially libellous material
Photos and videos
Once they’re online, photos and videos can be copied freely and manipulated. Once something is online, control over it is lost and it can continue to exist even if the original item is removed.
This content has the potential to cause embarrassment.
Some young people have also been known to take part in ‘sexting’ when they post or text sexually explicit photos of themselves. If the person in the picture is or appears to be under 18, anyone involved could be unwittingly implicated in child sex abuse offences.
Because of the anonymity if offers, technology encourages some people to do abusive things they would not normally do.
Victims of cyber-bullying can feel trapped as they can potentially be harassed 24/7. Content may continue to exist forever, despite efforts to remove it, and this can cause further distress to cyber-bullying victims.
Safe and responsible behaviour
The best way to keep young people safe online is to encourage safe and responsible behaviour from as early an age as possible.
For example they should be taught to understand the importance of:
- Profile privacy
- Respecting other people’s rights and feelings online
- Considering the long-term consequences of online actions
- Understanding and abiding by terms and conditions of use
Schools and colleges are ideal settings for encouraging this from an early age.
Young people must be able to assess online risks independently. This way they will always be safe online regardless of the technologies emerging.
- Think U Know: Information for children and young people
- Digizen: Information for educators, parents, carers, and young people on digital citizenship
Christine deGraft-Hanson, E-safety Co-ordinator/Deputy Headteacher, Parkwood Hall School
Everybody is talking about e-safety. We are all working as one, all the students are contributing and taking part in authority-wide activities. We’re just making sure that we are together on this and the majority of the students can pinpoint what is right and what is wrong, who to report things to and how to handle things online.
At lunchtimes you will hear conversations about the risks of putting photos on Facebook, for example, so they are talking about it actively and they want to help staff get this across to younger, more vulnerable pupils.
With the difference in ability between our students, striking a balance between empowering them and keeping them safe is very important.
Students know they have access to certain technologies but at the same time they know what rules are in place and what sanctions are in place. They know the expected behaviours and they know what rights will be taken away from them if they should breach these.