Promoting Digital Citizenship With John Parsons

john-parsonsLast week John Parsons from Simulate 2 Educate ran 45 minute sessions with students in each year level of Year 9-13 at St Andrew’s College, along with an after school Professional Development hour with teachers. The day finished with an evening parent session, that included a candid outline of the challenges facing students and parents when it comes to cyber security and technology usage.

John’s presentations were engaging and humorous and he succeeded in connecting with the students at all year levels, whilst delivering an unflinchingly real message of the risky behaviour happening online. Pleasingly, this was entirely absent of any elements of judgement because of their age; instead he highlighted the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being lost annually by adults making poor decisions or being duped online.

Idle curiosity and social engineering are powerful factors that drive decision making and both are exploited through risky online behaviour. John highlighted this with two examples:

  1. If a student found a USB stick lying outside the gates of the school and they took it home, plugged it into the family computer and found a file on there named “click me.docx”. Curiosity might drive them to open that file which could lead to the installation of a keystroke logging app which would collect and send typed information allowing the original owner of the USB stick to receive confidential information such as online banking or Facebook usernames/passwords.
  2. If a Facebook user received a message saying “You should see the picture that David has shared of you online, click this link to view”. The hook here is basically everyone knows somebody called “David” so it has an element of potential truth and instead of seeing the image they are redirected to a squeeze page  which might solicit their first and last names, and either their cell phone number or email address. Worse still, it may include a download file/link to see the picture but all it really installs is a keystroke logger.

The reality for our students is that they are born into a super-connected world in a way that their parents never were. Typically, when adults think of privacy they generally mean or refer to someone else taking care of the security of information to prevent someone from accessing it inappropriately. John’s message to students was essentially that view of privacy is dead and now the responsibility is all around self-control where the individual needs to take complete ownership of the sharing of their personal details and manage this themselves.

Every single one of you in this room is going to be subjected to a Google search by a prospective employer … I know over 96 boys and girls who can not get part time jobs because of content that their friends have posted online about them.

John Parsons (Simluate 2 Educate)

For this reason, John said, a student’s real CV is their online, digital footprint. Therefore they need to control this as tightly as possible by not allowing people to capture and share photos that make you vulnerable. Interestingly, John shared three ways that individuals are profiled by businesses and these went beyond just being in a photo in a compromising way:

  1. The pictures that people upload – do they lack or demonstrate empathy? Employers and Universities will ask this question of prospective employees/students. In other words, what kind of person would upload and share a photo that embarrasses or exploits another person in a vulnerable situation
  2. How do people talk to each other and what kind of content are they sharing and promoting online? Does it lack or demonstrate empathy? This is a key message as it’s very easy to be a digital bystander who perhaps didn’t upload the original content, but by liking or commenting on it can make you complicit.
  3. The company you keep – what sort of behaviour is going on in photos you are tagged in and what sort of people are you following and communicating with in your social networks.

John Parsons used this video to highlight the risks and attitudes to sharing highly personal content online.

Practical Steps Students Can Take:

A number of keys were provided to enable students to make better decisions online:

  • Stop communicating online whenever you receive a request or comment that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you stop responding to any messages you are taking control of the situation.
  • Screenshot the communication / request that made you feel uncomfortable in the first place. By collecting evidence of this you are again taking control of the situation.
  • Print or store the screenshots in a secure folder or location that can be shared with a trusted adult such as parents who can help students in this situation.

Don’t let technology, or the people that use it, erode the values that your family have given to you – you’re too valuable to allow technology to do this

John Parsons (Simulate 2 Educate)

This message came through time and again throughout the presentation: that the students are unique and too valuable to allow themselves to be exploited online. John further dared the students to care – to not walk past people who are in need (whether this is physically in person or online). He encouraged them to ask a student if they are ok and how they’re feeling if they had observed unkind or unhelpful things online directed at that student. Finally, he urged them to not cheapen themselves but to instead nurture and protect their identity.

Reflections:

These messages from John are timely and need to be consistently delivered to students, staff and parents on a regular basis because of the real risks that can be associated with content shared online. Making poor decisions in this area is not confined to teenagers, as evidenced by some of these high profile examples:

Whilst students increasingly have a “post first, think it through later” mentality when it comes to sharing all elements of their lives, the potential impact on their well being and prospective employment and study is significant.

Ultimately, Digital Citizenship is everyones responsibility and by following the advice of John Parsons and exhibiting self-control in what they share, students are taking the first step towards valuing themselves and their reputation.

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