Teaching cyber safety

THE way young people use technology is constantly changing, but employers and bad apples are always around to see what they are doing.

The Digital Thumbprint program, which has been accredited by the federal government’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner and is delivered by Optus, came to Sale College recently as part of its first regional Victorian visit.

Students from Sale College and Maffra Secondary College participated in workshops, talking about keeping online identities safe and cyberbullying, and were able to share their own experiences.

Optus regional market manager Jayson Grool said it was crucial to understand how actions online could impact real-world situations like employment in the future.

“The reason we’ve gone with thumbprint is that your thumbprint is unique, your footprint is not,” he said.

“We’re not saying don’t be on social media, once you’re over the age of consent, have fun with social media in a positive and constructive way, and be aware that what you put on, you need to own.”

The Digital Thumbprint project also released its evaluation report for 2018, with some interesting statistics — many social media sites legally restrict people under the age of 13, but 80 per cent of students in years seven and eight are using social media in one form or another.

According to the report, this highlights the importance of educating students early to ensure they interact safely and responsibly.

“A lot of the students didn’t realise that all you need to do is write your first name and last name in quotation marks, and it will list anything and everything that’s ever been printed or written about you, paper or online, it gives a deep dive,” Mr Grool said.

“We also opened up conversations about locking down accounts, and a lot of the students thought their accounts on Facebook and Instagram were quite private, but really, when they’re giving authority to activate that account, (the companies) can access their entire camera roll or microphone at any time.”

Acting Sale College campus principal Yvette Staple said it was a positive day.

“There was also a good discussion on online bullying and how it can impact people, and how to support people and not be a bystander in those situations,” she said.

“They are attached, parents buy the phones for them, they’re aware, and it’s become a different tool.

“I think they’ve grown up with different ways to communicate, but I don’t think it’s always negative — we have a responsible use of the phone, it can actually be a good teaching tool, there’s activities we put up online to answer quiz questions, and there’s lots of ways they can use their phone to interact.”

Many students said they had experienced cyberbullying, which has become harder to track with the advent of ephemeral messaging apps.

Mr Grool said part of the workshops involved how to be a better bystander, and to always tell someone if something is wrong.

“What surprises me is how many students in every session that put their hand up to say they’ve experienced cyberbullying, (it) increases through each school we go to and each year we roll it out,” Mr Grool said.

“We’d say anyone that has any issues to check out Lifeline Digital, which we have a partnership with as well.”

Identity was also an issue — statistics in the report state 82 per cent of teenagers understand that Instagram posts are not always a realistic representation of someone’s life, for example.

In an era where people of all ages need to be aware of identity fraud, and misinformation and dodgy sources, this is a promising sign.

“We point to the fact that what happens online isn’t necessarily what happens in the real world — it can have an

impact in the real world but often people have a persona or an agenda to sway you in a certain direction,” Mr Grool added.

“Listening to the classes that I’ve been a part of, I do think students are taking it more seriously now, because they’re digital natives, they’re on social media all the time,

girls more so than boys, but because they’re on it, they’re networking on it all the time.

“I would hope parents and guardians would walk away with more confidence, and that’s why we invite them to have a look at the website.”

Resources are available at digitalthumbprint.com.au, and there will be an information session and forum in April in the Latrobe Valley for parents and teachers.