So, you'll recall that I have been teaching history and Latin to two families besides my own, right?
I wrapped up my three-year American history program (more on that again later) with a few weeks' study of mass communication in the twentieth century, and finished that off with a discussion of social media and email.
Why did I put this in the context of history class? Well, for starters, for our family anyway, the timing is just about right. My ten-year-old is ready to have his own email address and to be a little bit freer to use and find things on the Web -- and you know, before you send them out in the world you have to have "the talk," right?
It's also something that is very different for these young people than it was for us. I didn't have to rely very much on books here, because Hannah and I could be the primary sources. We sat down and told them what it was like to read and contribute to Usenet groups, or to look for information using Gopher, or how hard it was to filter out the irrelevant junk before Google revolutionized the search engine.
Anyway, I ran the "Internet safety" lesson as a sort of discussion group. I thought I'd provide the outline here.
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Part I: The part that fits neatly into an American History context
A. Definition of social media: "Places" on the internet where people can virtually meet and communicate with each other.
B. How do people communicate using social media?
1) By sending files to each other
--files can be messages (long or short), documents, photographs, audio files, video files
2) Or by storing such files where they can be accessed by others
3) Or by playing games with each other which they access through various websites
4) Or by real-time chat or videoconference
C. Imagine a metaphor of a big room with lots of bulletin boards where messages may be left behind for all to see. I used this to emphasize the lack of real privacy.
D. Discussion question: How does the advent of easy, cheap social media change American culture?
(Looking for concepts like: people can make friends they've never met in person; people can form associations based on common interest regardless of geographical location; more international interaction; people may be more connected to "strangers" than to their own families; changes family culture; people can get addicted to being on line; business models change; people expect to connect to the internet everywhere so free time changes; advertisers have new ways to reach people; it's much easier to find information; etc.)
Extension: Watch the 90-minute PBS documentary Frontline: Digital Nation (available streaming through Netflix or here for free).
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Part II. New risks to be aware of because of social media.
Kinds of risks, ranked from the most dangerous to the most benign (in my opinion).
1) The risk of being physically harmed in "real life." Someone who wants to harm you for fun -- an online predator -- might try to use the computer to find kids like you, to trick you into telling him where you can be found, or to trick you into meeting him in person.
- What kind of information can be used to find out that you are a young boy or a young lady -- the sort of person the predator wants to harm?
- What kind of information can be used to find out where you are and when your parents won't be supervising you?
- What kind of lies could a predator tell to trick a young person into revealing where she could be found?
- What are some danger signs of online predators?
(2) Harming you non-physically via computer communication. Another kind of online predator might try to harm you, for fun, even without actually meeting you in person. A person can do this by sending you harmful messages or videos, or just putting it where you'll see it.
- What kind of messages, pictures, or videos can harm you if you read, see, possess, or watch them?
- cruel speech about yourself or others;
- obscene material;
- material that encourages you to do things that are wrong or illegal;
- material that is illegal to possess, like sexually explicit pictures of minors;
- frightening or disturbing material
- What are ways that you can avoid receiving harmful files?
- What can you do if you realize that a message, chat, picture, or video is dangerous?
(2a) Some things may be harmful to you even though the person who made them available did not intend to hurt anyone. What kinds of things are these? (material that's meant for adults but not appropriate for children; incorrect facts)
(3) Stealing your identity or your parents' identity. If a thief can successfully pretend to be me, she could gain access to a lot of my stuff. What kinds of things could such a person gain access to?
- money in my bank account
- charge things to my credit card
- use my membership to get into organizations I belong to
Could such a person also break the law and get me in trouble for it? (yes)
Could they borrow money and then I would have to pay it back? (yes)
Could they send nasty messages that look like they came from me and then I might get in trouble or lose my reputation? (yes)
Discuss: What kind of information can be used to steal your identity or your parents' identity?
(4) Spreading things that you wanted to keep secret or private. Suppose you had a secret that you wanted to share with one close friend and nobody else. You told the secret to your friend and made her swear that she would never tell anyone. But suppose that this friend wasn't as trustworthy as you thought she was. She told your secret to one other person. And then that friend told another person. And before you know it, everyone you know knows your secret. How would you feel? Could some secrets even put you or your family in danger?
There is nothing new about this. Secrets have gotten out for as long as people have been keeping secrets from each other. But secrets that are passed around by computer can be a problem in a new and particularly dangerous way. Do you know why?
- you might accidentally reveal the secret to many people instead of one;
- they can be passed very fast to many people at once all over the world;
- exact copies can be made of them, even if the "secret" is a photograph or a video;
- they can be altered to make them look or sound even more embarrassing or incriminating than they really are;
- copies may be stored on other people's computers for a very long time and so the secret may come out when you least expect it
Discussion question: How can you protect yourself against online spreading of secrets or secret pictures or secret videos?
- don't send secrets by email or in any other electronic form;
- tell secrets only in person;
- assume that any message you send over the internet can be read by anyone
(5) Harming your computer. Computer viruses can infect your computer. Any file that you download from the internet may contain a virus or a piece of malware. How can you protect your parents' computer against unwanted programs?
(6) Selling you stuff you don't want. There are many advertisements on websites. You need to be cautious about the things that advertisements on the internet say, just as you need to be cautious about claims made on TV. Some of it is there to trick you into spending your money.
(7) Gathering information about you so they can figure out what stuff to try to sell you. You know that when you type words and numbers into a form on a website, or when you send an email, some information leaves your computer and goes out into the world where someone can get it. On many websites, information can be gathered just from a mouse-click. Some companies gather information about what you like to read or look at, and they use this information to send you advertisements that they think you will respond to.
General Discussion and Assessment:
What risks are there in each of these places? What precautions should you take?
- Chat room
- Online gaming
- Social media like Facebook where you reveal information to a group of people you select
- Social media like Twitter where your information is revealed to anyone who wants to see it
- Photo sharing site like Flickr
- Browsing for interesting videos on YouTube
- Searching for information for a school report
- Shopping at a large secure online store, like Amazon.com
- Online auctions, like eBay
- Buying items from a local bulletin board, like Craigslist
- Email messages
- Writing a blog
- Online discussion groups for fans of a TV show