If you have attended an E2BN E-Safety training session you will be familiar with Kathy Olsson’s favourite mantra about Internet safety:
“On the Internet: there’s no such thing as privacy, there’s no delete button and so post like your enemies are watching!”
In earlier blog posts, she examined the first and second parts of that statement. In this edition, she concludes this series of E-Safety pieces by looking at the idea that you should post as though your enemies are watching. The E-Safety world can be a dark and terrifying place. Sometimes when I get to the ‘On the Internet…’ slide in my presentations to school staff I think that, maybe, I have spent too much time looking at the darker side of the Internet. Sometimes I think that I am in danger of becoming just a little paranoid! After all, who on earth would be interested in the online behaviour of a middle aged woman who’s only claim to fame is once having danced with Paul Weller?
No-one cares whether I publish my holiday snaps on Facebook or rant on Twitter about the awful wine I bought last week do they? What does it matter if I share a visual joke with my teenage daughter’s friend via Snapchat or curate a collection of pictures of oddly shaped garden vegetables on Pinterest? Actually, it could matter quite a lot. It really depends who sees your post. If it is just your like-minded friends then it’s probably not an issue but if your Tweets, messages or posts are seen by someone who wishes, your school or profession ill, it could matter a lot.
There are countless examples of teachers who have found themselves having difficult conversations with their head teacher about something they have posted on line and is now the subject of public discussion. Countless examples of school staff damaging their own reputations as professionals and bringing the organisations for which they work for in to disrupt. Let me be clear here, I’m not talking about staff who have acted illegally or unprofessionally. Quite frankly, if your online behaviour falls into one of those categories I have very little sympathy. What I am talking about are those teachers, Heads, teaching assistants etc who have unwittingly exposed themselves to public ridicule and suspicion without having done anything very terrible.
Let’s look at some examples.
“Semi naked images of teacher from XXXXXXXXX School available online.”
This is a quote from a newspaper headline. The semi naked images of the teacher were in fact holiday snaps taken on a public beach. The newspaper headline caused quite a stir in the staffroom and amongst the faith community that the school served. The enemy here is surely the copywriter who deliberately implied that the teacher was doing something other than topping up a tan and building sand castles with their kids.
A group of primary school teachers attended a party. There was drinking and pole dancing. Photographs were taken and uploaded to Facebook. Unfortunately, the images were seen on Facebook by a parent whose child attended the school. Concerned that pupils might see pictures of the scantily clad teachers, the parent printed lots of copies of the images and distributed them to other parents. A number of complaints were made to the Head teacher and the whole incident, including the names of individual teachers, was reported in by a national newspaper. None of these teachers offline behaviour was not illegal, immoral or unprofessional.
There’s nothing in the Teachers Standards Part 1 or Part 2 that states that teachers may not drink alcohol or dance in a sexually provocative way. There is nothing that says that teachers shouldn’t use social media. However, a record of the offline behaviour was published for all the world to see. Although the images were surely only intended to be seen by a select group of friends, the either the account settings were not restrictive enough or a ‘friend’ shared the images more widely.
The mistake these teachers made was not having a few drinks and kicking back after a long term, it was failing to consider what would happen if the images were seen by someone who wasn’t a ‘friend’. They were seen by someone who, for their own reasons, decided to make an aspect of the teachers’ private lives very, very public.
A student teacher took part in a promotional video for construction site wear. The video was produced as a parody of a soft porn movie. You will have seen more nudity and as much sexual activity on the prime time television. The video ended up on everyone’s favourite online video site. The student teacher qualified and got a job in a secondary school in the north of England. Purely by chance, one of her students came across the video. He shared the link to video with his mates, who shared the link with their mates and so on. Pretty soon the whole school community knew about ‘Miss in the sex video’. ‘Miss’ was suspended for three months pending the school’s ‘investigation. The investigation found that she hadn’t done anything that would constitute grounds for dismissal or any other disciplinary action and she was re-instated. But this can hardly compensate for the fact that eight years on the original video is still available. There are also re-edits of the video which identify the teacher and her school accompanied by a range of unpleasant comments. There are still dozens of web pages from a wide variety of news channels and newspapers.
Who’s the enemy here? I don’t suppose the teacher knows who posted the original video online and it probably wasn’t done out of malice. Whoever uploaded the video may not even have known that one of the actresses was now a teacher or been aware that the video’s publication could cause so much harm.
So, next time you are about to post a picture on Facebook, express an opinion on Twitter, send a work related email from your personal email account, do anything online or even think about taking part in a video there a few things to remember. Your posts, tweets, emails and videos are not really private online, anyone could see them. Once published, you lose control of what you have posted/ tweeted/emailed - you can’t delete all the copies or decide what happens to them.
And finally there are well-intentioned crusaders, journalists trying to make a living, disgruntled parents, naughty children and mischievous friends as well as trolls and bullies out there who will become your nemesis if you let them. So post like your enemies are watching ‘cos they just might be!