In June 2019 the DfE released the non-statutory guidance for schools, ‘Teaching Online Safety in Schools’. We’ve partnered with e-safety adviser Alan Mackenzie to bring schools and MATs 5 helpful bitesize instalments along with expert insight to make it easier to digest. In this fourth instalment Alan discusses 8 elements of online activity that could affect a pupil’s personal safety and the safety of others online.
Previous instalments include Instalment 1 How to get the most out of the DFE’s Teaching Online Safety in Schools Guidance, Instalment 2; 5 Ways to Encourage Pupils to Navigate the Online World Safely and Instalment 3; how to navigate the internet and the 10 specific harms to be aware of. In Instalment 3 we looked at topics related to how to navigate the internet and manage information. This week we’re looking at aspects relating to personal safety and the safety of others. Whilst there are many risks to children and young people online, the Teaching Online Safety guidance document is a good reference, giving us 8 main areas to consider:
1. Online Abuse
A huge area in its own right, but no-one could argue that online abuse is getting bigger and bigger. Each year the NSPCC releases a new report called ‘How Safe are our Children?’ This year they have concentrated on online abuse (https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/how-safe-are-our-children/), and some of the statistics are very concerning. Abuse comes in many forms from negative posts or bullying to illegal activities. Children and young people must be able to understand when activities such as posts and comments can cross a line and also understand where to get help if it is happening to them. Topic areas to consider in the classroom could include online disinhibition, empathy, the bystander effect, legality, what is appropriate/inappropriate, peer on peer abuse.
From the ASL bucket challenge to the so-called Momo challenge (hoax), from 3AM challenges to Bloody Mary, challenges aren’t new but they are getting bigger and in some circumstances, riskier. You’ve only got to take a quick look on YouTube to see how immensely popular some of these challenges can be. This apparent popularity can lead some into doing things that go over the boundaries of risk into harmful behaviour. Equally, peer pressure may lead some children and young people into doing things they don’t want to, sometimes crossing the boundary of legality. Students need to understand the boundaries and be able to risk assess where something may put themselves or somebody else into a risky situation that may lead to harm. Equally they must understand that they don’t have to follow the flock and submit to peer pressure.
3. Content which incites violence
The first thought that will come to many is the increase in knife crime and other activities often related to gangs. Whilst social media companies say they are making best endeavours to remove this type of content, realistically it’s very easy to find. Often the incitement will take place online leading to offline violence. Such online content is often glamorised using videos such as music videos, or videos/posts showing lots of money or expensive items. Many students will already be aware of this type of content, some will have seen it and sadly, some will be involved. It is crucial that students are aware of the legalities of the incitement and the activities, but equally important is to give them avenues of support. This can be a particularly difficult area to cover, however advice can be sought from the police to see if they have a specialist speaker who may be able to visit the school to talk to the students in an age-appropriate way.
4. Fake profiles
Fake profiles are incredibly easy to create online. In the past it has been known for a student to create a fake profile of a teacher in school in order to infiltrate a private WhatsApp group used by other staff members. From a child protection perspective it is widely known that some offenders will create fake profiles in order to groom children. With the increased use of artificial intelligence there are more and more ‘bots’ online which are used for a variety of purposes, such as creating online profiles. It’s rare to find a student that doesn’t know about fake profiles but it’s always good to remind them of such things and re-iterate the importance of critical thinking, taking us right back to instalment 2, evaluating what they see online, such as:
- Why is this person contacting me?
- How do I know if the profile is real?
There are many different reasons for grooming, such as radicalisation, child sexual abuse or exploitation, drugs (e.g. county lines) and yet the techniques used are all very similar. Students should be made aware of these techniques in order to recognise when something isn’t quite right, what to do (e.g. don’t engage) and be given the avenues of support should they need help. Similar to instalment 2, Identifying Online Risks, it’s important that any talk or discussion doesn’t come across as victim blaming such as questions similar to, “What could he/she have done to prevent this?” Someone who has been or is being groomed is the victim of persuasion techniques and is never at fault. Also remember that grooming will often take place (or start) in the online spaces that are currently popular with children, which include games and social media apps, incorporating an activity that is becoming more popular; live streaming.
6. Live Streaming
This is an activity that is becoming more popular year on year with children and young people, particularly using apps such as TikTok and Twitch, but there are many more that are used so remember to concentrate on the behaviour rather than the technology. The IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) have reported increased levels of grooming and child sexual exploitation via live streaming (https://www.iwf.org.uk/news/iwf-research-on-child-sex-abuse-live-streaming-reveals-98-of-victims-are-13-or-under) and so much greater awareness is needed. It’s interesting that the DfE has included this activity as many would argue that the same issues are presented via games, image sharing, chat apps etc. With that said, it is a growing concern as highlighted in the IWF report so it’s an important one. Of particular relevance is the fact that ‘live’ is immediate, there’s little time to think (online disinhibition) and so it is an environment that gives particular cause for concern around the 3 areas of content, contact and conduct.
This is an area that many have been calling on the government to introduce for a long time, and it’s long overdue. The sheer amount of freely, publicly available content is extraordinary which can lead to relationship problems, skewed beliefs, normalisation of behaviour or body image, so-called revenge porn and much more. It’s important that secondary students are able to discuss this in an open, non-judgemental manner and the introduction of statutory Relationships and Sex education in September 2020 should go a long way to helping schools out with this difficult but vital area.
8. Unsafe communication
Some of this has already been briefly considered in other topics, such as grooming, live streaming and use of personal information and will be a core part of any discussion in all of those topics, so the separate inclusion within the Teaching Online Safety in Schools guidance is a confusing one. However it does go into other areas such as consent and conflict management. An often-cited rule given to children and young people is, “Don’t talk to strangers online.” Yet many, particularly older teenagers would argue that this is totally unrealistic in the modern, connected world; in many cases you don’t get a choice if someone you don’t know talks to you. Children and young people need strategies; ways to understand what may be safe and what may be unsafe. Again, this is down to critical thinking, and to be able to think critically children and young people need to have the correct information.
- As discussed in instalment 3, this is a huge area and the 8 points above provide the main topics to engage in school.
- Don’t treat all the points as separate issues as they are all related in some way. For example, if you want to have a discussion around grooming and techniques, you might take into account live streaming, unsafe communication and challenges.
- When discussing these issues, try to use the areas that children and young people are in as you are likely to raise their interest levels which will lead to more positive engagement. Use examples from games or apps that are popular with your students.
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