This already has the feel of a “Let’s Talk About How to Keep Kids Safe on the Read/Write Web Week” as there have been a bunch of issues converging in these parts and elsewhere of late. I know it’s getting obnoxious for me to keep doing this, but Dean Shareski found yet another story about Xanga-itis that brings the cluelessness of school administrators to an alarmingly embarrasing new level.
“I don’t know a thing about it but the kids know about it,” Steve Borgsmiller, superintendent of the Sikeston R-6 school district, said of Xanga and online blogging. “Through word of mouth it is common knowledge to those kids who are regular users of the Internet.”
Sikeston schools are among those across the nation that do not allow Xanga to be accessed. Students must sign an “appropriate use” document to use the school’s computers and Internet access, according to Borgsmiller, and online blogging is not among the appropriate uses. “The school’s computers are for educational purposes, not for entertainment,” he said.
Blogging is not an appropriate use. It’s entertainment. And so it goes.
So let’s talk about safety. I’ll start.
How about this? How about we get all the kids together and say to them
“We know that there are a lot of schools out there that are banning personal journal sites like Xanga and Myspace.com, but we want you to know that we’re not going to do that. Even though we may discourage you from reading and writing to these sites during school, we feel you have every right to use Xanga or Myspace to write about your world in an appropriate way. In fact, we think there are lots of ways that you can benefit from doing so. You’re writing and expressing yourselves and that’s generally a good thing. But we need to make sure you understand some of the unwritten rules that go along with any publishing you do to the Internet. And that’s what you’re doing, you’re publishing your thoughts, ideas, in some cases your pictures and videos to a vast audience. And that may have some unintended consequences.
The worst of these is that some people who you become “friends” with online may not really be who they say they are. They may be people who want to harm you or steal from you or your family. When you publish information about yourself like your name, your age, your address or your telephone number, you are increasing the chances that something bad is going to happen. When you post provocative photos of yourselves, you’re being more foolhardy than flirtatious. Plain and simple, you don’t know who is looking at your words and pictures. So please, don’t publish personal, identifying information, and never completely trust the people you meet online.
Second, remember that the things you publish may follow you long after your high school or college experience ends. Think carefully about what you want future employers or “significant others” to know about you. Google is good today; think about what it will be able to find five years from now. Many people are already being affected by things they wrote and published years ago. You may as well, so be smart about what you publish. Ask yourself if it’s really something you want to become a part of your online record.
Finally, understand that while you have the right to create and update these personal sites, you do not have the right to use them in ways that defame, threaten or harass others. Once again, we want you to remember that despite your best efforts, it’s very unlikely that what you publish online will stay private, and that means that even words written in jest may be punishable by the law.
Blogs can be wonderful places of learning and connection. They can be places to think, to reflect, to dream and to plan. But like anything else, we all need to learn how to use them effectively, appropriately and safely. We think many of our teachers’ and administrators’ personal blogs provide some great models, and we’d urge you to check some of them out. But we also understand that ultimately, you decide what you do and don’t do in your spaces. We hope you learn to use them well, and if there is anything you think we can do to help accomplish that and to help keep you safe, we hope you let us know.
We have some time for questions…”
Now, what do we say to parents?