Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Local students schooled in cyber-security

I’m all for teaching students about security, although my methods differ.

STUDENTS have come face to face with the potential perils of social media in a series of hard-hitting workshops designed to keep them safe.

Cyber safety experts spent the day at Darlington School of Mathematics and Science (DSMS) highlighting the potentially negative physical, social and psychological consequences of using the internet.

It sounds good so far, but well-meaning education on safety can have profoundly harmful effects.  For example, consider attempts at safe sex education that consider only abstinence.  It is known that such programmes are ineffective where it counts.  I’m by no means suggesting that this approach by Durham Police and Harbour Support Services is comparable to abstinence-only sex education.  In fact, Harbour Support Services have some good things to say on the issue and certainly seem to have the right idea. 

But the article says some slightly worrying things too:

Durham Police neighbourhood policing team officer Kathryn Davies and beat officer David Gibson delivered the third workshop addressing inappropriate use of social media including sexting and how easy it was to fall foul of the law.

It’s important to know your rights but I’m not convinced by terms like “inappropriate”.  Inappropriate to whom?  Aren’t we ultimately talking about safety here, rather than what someone else judges inappropriate?  And I’m not sure that the best people to teach kids about the legal implications of their online activities are the police.  But I’m judging without being there, they might well have done an excellent job and it’s the journalism that’s a bit suspect.

Mr Duckling explained that domestic violence could be physical, emotional, financial and sexual. It affected men, women and children and Harbour was there to support victims and work with perpetrators.

That sounds more like it.  It’s an angle that often goes unnoticed.  The headlines of stranger-danger overwhelm those of domestic violence and bullying, but are in fact the greater concern.  The issue of how abuse sufferers can safely find and use the resources they need is of paramount importance.  So too is the freedom of young people to enquire and explore, to push the boundaries and define the parameters of their own safety.  The goal (at least, my goal) is to show how young people can push those boundaries responsibly.  For example, if a young person needs to hide activity from her parents, she should ensure someone she trusts knows what’s going on in case something bad happens.  If she feels she can’t trust anyone with that information, she probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is in the first place.

PCSO Gibson stressed the importance of young people keeping their online profiles private.

Don’t get me wrong.  The stranger-danger stuff is important and a fact that should be reinforced.  But I think it’s a more subtle issue than many approaches consider.  Common sense measures like this should definitely be observed, but it’s easy to mistake security counter-measures as security: taking care in some respects doesn’t necessarily make one safe.

Students were also shown poignant videos covering a variety of cyber safety issues and hate crime scenarios.

It would be interesting to see those videos.  We’re not very good at understanding the consequences of our future actions or at connecting things that happen to things we did in the past,

This Harbour outfit looks interesting, at first glance.  I’ll check them out.  Perhaps it will be a good way to inject some knowledge and expertise from ORG into places it’s needed.

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