I used to coach all my students about caution on the Internet by saying, “Not everyone is as nice as you.” That did two things, it got them to look at themselves as good people, because someone else thought they were, and it got them to be more aware and question before jumping into to things online. We all, eventually, get faced with digital situations that make us more aware. While we love the Internet and social media, being naïve isn’t in your best interest. Lessons learned—last, but in most cases need to be repeated. So class, let me begin by saying that not everyone is as nice as you are.
Here I’ll date myself, but when WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Web publishing first hit in the mid 90s, I was so happy. I wouldn’t need to HTML code everything, just key in stuff and click. It was magic. Seemed so simple, log in, type, and insert images online without creating the pages from the ground up. It was brilliant, and most everyone could do it. As an educator, I was attracted to the cheapest Web building on the Internet, and it seemed to work.
I went blissfully along for about 3 months—created my class site and a school site. Then one day I received an e-mail from a (and I’ll have to make up her name, because I’ve forgotten) Sister Mary Margaret, somewhere in California. It began, “Did you know….” Well, as it turned out, by day my sites appeared to me and everyone—a stellar place to find out more class and school news, but in the evening, the west coast was getting some interesting banners to look at. As the dear Sister pointed out in words and screen shot images, scantily clad woman danced atop my pages, giving more of an education than I had intended. Now, that was a rude awakening, but it was good on many levels as well.
After my shock, I immediately contacted the website company, and asked pretty much what Sister Mary Margaret did. There weren’t many free choices then, so sharing that I didn’t think it appropriate to slip banners like that on an education site made them think. I learned that an upgrade for a few bucks would make sure nothing like that ever happened again. From that time on, I always paid the few bucks. As it turned out, the upgrade, for me, was free, because they didn’t want bad press about students, school, Sister Mary Margaret, risqué banners, or a loud mouth science teacher sharing any of it with anyone. Now, would I ever tell? From that point on, I realized that talking with a company is possible, and asking them to be considerate to education needs was not only possible, but in everyone’s best interest at the start. Free may be free, but in most cases the consequences aren’t, so it’s better to plan from the start—getting everyone on the same education page—so to speak. Sometimes free stays free, but paying a little more to be safe may be the best plan.
I’ve always tried to share the safe route, and it’s no different now than it was when we all first jumped onto AOL at the very beginning and began bumping into one another. There’s just more people out there. Again, not everyone is as nice as you. A great example of not thinking, because you blissfully believe everything in the world is fine is a simple little Twitter password capturing trick perpetrated on some very intelligent people on a daily basis. Usually, you log into a bogus Twitter log in page, because it tells you that you’re logged out, but in reality you’re not. What happens next is that your password has been compromised and crazy Direct Messages (DMs) are sent out under your Twitter name. They can vary, but a frequent one seen goes something like: “People are saying bad things about you” and there’s a nasty URL/link attached. Of course, any of your followers receiving one is first thinking, “Who would be saying bad things about me?”, and many have clicked the URL—ending up in trouble. The blame then goes back to the person who thought he/she was logged out and lost his/her password control.
So, let me make this simple. Always, if in doubt, log out, then log back into Tweeter from a fresh start. Never trust any page telling you that you’re logged out, because you may not be, and that bogus helpful poke to log in may cost you your password and most likely a few friends. Don’t get there. And if you get sent one of those DMs, just delete it, and try to understand that the Twitter handle of the person attached to it didn’t read this post.
There are other simple red flags to be aware of on Twitter. For instance, don’t click on an orphan URL. If the link is that important to be shared the person sharing should at least take the time to describe it in a few words. Heck, you get 140 characters; it’s lazy not to use some of them. Don’t click on an orphan URL, even if you think you know the person tweeting it. They’ll understand. Orphan links could spell trouble.
Furthermore, shortened URLs while very Twitter handy can be a bit scary, too. You never know where they’re going. Your policy should be, if in doubt, don’t click. Wouldn’t you say that to your kids? And if the link is that good, someone will share it again, with a bit more information. There is nothing wrong about being careful while enjoying Twitter and the Internet.
I was recently reminded that we do have some control over what we will and will not share over the Internet, and that it is OK to say no. A friend of mine, who had never registered for anything online, asked me for a walk through on how to do it. I said, only answer what is required. In his case the registration had some fill-ins with asterisks (*) and some without. I told him only to answer the required ones—those with asterisks. He was filling in everything, including birthday and three phone numbers. I said, I’m your friend, and I don’t even know all those numbers! No asterisk. Only answer the required information. While you can’t remain completely comfortable online, you can retain some control if you think a little. That might be something to share with students often, along with it’s OK to say no. Lessons learned—last, but usually need to be repeated.
Ken Royal is a teacher/education and education technology blogger/reporter, video interviewer, podcaster, education event news commentator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology experience. His teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. Read more of Ken’s work at Royal Reports.