29 March, 2010

The internets are going to rape your children!

As a school librarian, I have of course subscribed to an email list of school librarians. This has opened the floodgates to a lot of emails, most of which I read the subject line of, before deleting; some of which I read and am grateful for but others which lead me to the conclusion that many in my profession are a group of reactionary old fools who should be put out to pasture before they create another generation of kids who think libraries are pointless.

Take today's example (one which got me up on my soap box in the forum and now here in my blog, where I can write without the "OMG paedophiles are everywhere" brigade having the right of reply).

The issue of school photos on facebook came to a head with an email which read (in part);
We have a Year 6 child who has scanned a class photo... to her Facebook page.
We now realise that we will have to put something in place in terms of
privacy etc. This was done at home with the child's own property. Do you
involve yourselves in this or is it a home issue? ... is it OK for her to post photos of other kids without their permission? Can we really do anything about this?
I replied in calm and measured tones;
I'm going to leap in on this one and say "do nothing"
As a parent, I would be appalled if my daughter's teachers thought they had any say in what she did on facebook. I am surprised that there are teachers who think that there is any role for the school in this. Aside from the fact that the photo was taken at school, what is the issue?
Is it OK for her to put up photos of the other kids without permission? Yes. There may be a copyright issue depending on who your school photographer is and how they feel about it, but that is not a school issue, it is for the photographers to follow up if they feel they need to. That aside, the kids will fill their albums with photos of each other. Photos from the school social, from the camp, from the swimming carnival...
As for teaching kids about their safety and privacy online, most of them know more than most of their teachers. At least, by the time they are 13 (the age when you can get a facebook account - unless they lie about their age).
Now, some of the folk took issue (and quite rightly too) with my saying the kids know more than most of their teachers by talking about how little protection many of them use online. It was a throw away line and while I still believe I could argue my point I will try to focus on the real issue. Such as the person who said;

there are also safety issues because any would-be predator now has enough stuff to start a conversation with either that child or one of her friends....
There could be repercussions from the photographer against the school....
If I were in your shoes, I would be contacting the parents and explaining the privacy issues and asking them to ensure that the student removes the photo.
Seriously? Arghhh

Let me go out on a personal limb here and say that the world is mad. But that is no excuse for those of us who should be educated to believe this sort of A Current Affair rubbish.
Forget the paranoia and look at reality.

Slipping out of my School Librarian role for a moment and into my parent role, if a teacher was to contact me about my daughter's facebook profile I would be asking them why the hell they were looking at it, and questioning why they didn't have anything better to do with their time. If they added the paranoid OMG the paedophiles are everywhere rubbish I would be hard pressed not to laugh.

My eldest (13) is on facebook, her photos can be seen by her friends. If her friends are in the photos, then those photos can be seen by their friends. Who are those friends of friends? Who cares! As I said before, the world is mad. We have taken risk management and decided if there is any risk we will manage it by eliminating it. Risk can't be eliminated, nor should it be. Kids should be given the opportunity to learn how to accept risk and how to deal with it is a sensible fashion.
Remember folks, the reality is that abuse comes from those our children know. Uncles, grandfathers, friends of the family...
Yet, I don't believe the school has a role in telling parents not to let the kids visit their grandfather without a chaperone, so why should we be butting in on their online private life,
Unless your school has a particularly high number of students who are on the witness protection program, this is a non issue.

As you an imagine, my logical and reasoned approach was greeted well. Actually, that sounds sarcastic. But I did get a flood of emails along the lines of "thanks for not drinking to cool-aid" But those were all off-list. On list there were messages like;
...it is implicit in our duty of care that students cannot be tracked through FB, Google or anywhere else if we can prevent it...
I wonder what the outcome of a lawsuit might be if something happened and it was proven that I, as a teacher, knew about it and did nothing.
And the person who wrote that was lauded as
...a voice of reason in this discussion.
Seriously, that is a voice of reason? that is not a voice in the same vicinity as reason. That is a voice of paranoid insanity. If 'something' did happen. What the hell is 'something' and how is something prevention a part of my job description?
Some of the paranoia seemed also to be about students whose non-custodial parents must be avoided. OK, now we at least have a real issue to discuss. Yes, if there are problems in custody battles we don't want that student on the front page of a major newspaper with directions to their home. But, rather than go for an instant paranoid overreaction, how about we hope that the custodial parent is sane enough not to have their kid on facebook at all.

Trying to be logical in this, how many random facebook profiles of 13 year old girls would I have to search through in order to stumble across a photo of my own child if they were not on facebook? The odds are astronomical and I would have a much better chance of finding my child by randomly standing outside actual schools watching kids come and go.

Trying to be logical again, I decided to look at the other issue, copyright. Because the paranoid librarian quoted above made a good point in a later email;
It is part of our role as the school community's information specialist to inform the school community about the legal aspects of IP, copyright and acceptable use, including legal ramifications of possible use.
I called three school photographers at random and asked them where they stand on the issue.
Their answers were a unanimous acceptance that kids (and their parents) will put the school photos online. They all said that the only reason they would care about digital reproductions would be if the someone was trying to make a profit from them.
So, there is one less issue for everyone to cry "OMG people is going to sue us all ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" about.

None the less, the debate continues online and I am currently deciding whether to continue trolling the message board with my persistent and countercultural insistence on not being paranoid.


CW said...

This is why I don't subscribe to librarian mailing lists ;)

On hearing that I don't subscribe, a colleague said: "Oh, but how do you keep up to date then?" I said I don't need email to keep up to date :)

ADHD Librarian said...

You are right CW, and I do tend to ignore these lists most of the time. But being as I am having (another) career tangent, I thought I should link into the hive brain to see what new stuff comes up.

So, I have been sitting there lurking (apart from one 'hello' post). Yet this one I thought needed my brand of irreverence because otherwise the paranoid reactionaries would have been the only voices and who knows how many new librarians (and library students) would think that was the only opinion a librarian could have.

Garreth said...

Thank God for the voice of sanity that you are!

Came accross your site for the ADHD bit addmitedly, but this is fascinating.

The medias efforts to turn everyone paranoid are imense, they capitalize on every small thing in order to sensationalize their news, and the mass public then assumes this is fact in entirety rather than using critical thinking to assess the stories they are being fed.

You seem to have take the right line of being aware of what your kids are up to, being responsible in regards to the internet (making sure kids know dangers, but letting them get on with it, and keeping communication open and not spying on them).

Those parents who say the net is beyond them and let their kids get on with it and pretend it's not their problem yet insist it's the wild west out there need to grow up and take some responsibility for their Parenting!

There should be less lititgation towards schools and more self responsibility by parents, and therefore school staff should chill a bit.

Of course the exception is if there is a group on facebook dedicated to harrasement/libel/insulting/bullying of a particular member of staff. In that case it's 'cyberbullying', so where to draw the line on 'monitoring' activities on facebook is less clear.

Having worked as an IT Tech in a HS we came accross issues like this, but less on the Paedo direction, probs cos it was boys only skl until 6th form (in uk terms, age 17-19)