Are we ever safe on the internet?

Following the sudden focus on social networking in my school, I thought it was a good time for me to post some thoughts on the safety of social media following the excellent post by Mike Tidd on TiddTalk.

I have always been interested in the security of social media, and have kept up-to-date with the developments that sites like Facebook and Twitter have made to their security settings. I was particularly aggravated when Facebook removed the feature which stopped people searching for me by name.

When I decided to become a teacher, it seemed as though everything that I learned through my own interests was going to be lost and my vital connection to friends across the world would disappear. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we should get rid of our social media accounts and, at least, we should change our names on facebook so we would not be found by students. Many of my teaching friends now have accounts which bear their first name and middle name rather than their surname.

This technique is all well and good if your friends do the same thing, or you are not friends with anyone you work with. It only takes one stray teacher account for students to access your account as students are not stupid – they know our first names and can work out from profile pictures that it is you.

My greatest problem with this technique is that it provides a false layer of security and those who are less experienced can be fooled into thinking that they are safe. The honest truth is that if we want to ply the internet with our personal lives, we are never truly safe from students finding out. Whether it be an inadvertent share by a less vigilant colleague, or a mistake on our part, we must always assume that what we say can be read by those whom we would prefer it not read by.

I have developed a technique with my students over the past few years – you always get questions from them as they are naturally curious. I tried, at first, to deflect the questions and not answer them – things like “What’s your first name?” and “How old are you?”. Punishing them for showing qualities which we promote in the classroom is not an option; we want them to ask questions and find out about the world. Now, instead of avoiding the questions, I just answer them straight out – the game of finding out is then immediately gone and they leave me alone. We should do the same with social media.

On a number of occasions, students have said to me “I found you on facebook”. At first I used to panic and think that I would get into trouble – my PGCE lecture on social media had made me panic about such situations; I had made a mistake and was not secure enough; however now I am more experienced and say “Ok” and very little else. I am secure in the knowledge that they can find me because I know that there is nothing interesting there. What they can see is boring and normal – and the game of the teachers on social media is gone.

We are never safe on the internet, but we should not avoid using it because we are worried about students. To remain as safe as possible, we just need to consider what we share.

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