Saturday, April 24, 2010

Online Reputations

Over the Easter holiday I received a Facebook 'friend' request from a year 9 student. I have a strict no-student policy re Facebook. It is where I post photos of my grandchildren and where friends and family keep in touch with me. As far as is possible online it is a private space. 

However whenever I receive a friend request from a student I always check out their profile to make sure that the e-safety messages about privacy settings are actually getting through. In this case although the profile was private, his list of groups he belonged to was not. One jumped out immediately as it mentioned the head and another teacher by name and appeared to be a campaign to get the teacher sacked by accumulating members to the group. I was appalled by this and clicked onto the link to the group to see what was being posted. There were 20 or so posts, almost of them hostile to the teacher in question and some of them very unpleasant. Worse still the group had 574 members. Many of the students who had joined the group are what I consider to be nice kids.

I alerted my HoD and we have contacted Facebook and had the group taken down. Given the large number of students involved, however, how to tackle this at school has been more of an issue. I didn't want it to become a witchhunt but I needed to get across to students that this sort of behaviour was not acceptable on two fronts, it was a form of bullying and it tarnished their own reputation. 

I have focused a lot of e-safety messages at protecting online reputation. We use this video in KS3 as I like it's closing message - 'don't broadcast your idiot youth to the universe'

Public Service Announcement

We follow this up by getting students to google themselves to see what trail they are leaving online.

Obviously I needed to reinforce this message. The wonderful people at Common Craft have come up with another great Plain English video - Protecting  your online reputation - which fitted the bill perfectly.  

Protecting Online Reputations in Plain English 

I've shown this in classes this week and followed it up by explaining how hurt and upset I would have been if the group had been about me. I also stressed how easy it was for me to find all the names of the people who had joined the group, many of whom I'm sure didn't give it much of a thought and did it for a laugh. I said that it made the people involved look pretty shabby and that they needed to take more care over their reputations. I also linked it to the recent case of the labour party candidate who was dropped after Twitter posts he'd made while a student came to light. 

While not playing down the 'stranger danger' online grooming threats, I feel that the online reputation issue is one that will affect far more students. Not only should we be hammering home the 'don't broadcast your idiot youth to the universe' message, we should also be teaching students how to create a positive online presence that they will want future employers and college interview panels to find. We can only do this by engaging with the students over the appropriate use of social media tools. 

I came across this cartoon a while ago:-

When we get social media issues cropping up it is very easy to take the ban it / block it attitude. I feel this is primarily to protect ourselves and our schools' reputations, not to help our students become responsible digital citizens.

Image source


  1. Getting them to google themselves is great, there's also a number of more intelligent sites that aggregrate data about individuals and create profiles of them without their knowledge.

    This collect all the little digital footprints that we leave on the internet unknowingly and put them in one place.

    Thanks for your post! You're welcome to access any of our Highland resources, I have a few presentations on slideshare you'd be welcome to access.

  2. Thanks Louise - I will check out your links - they look really useful