Online Safety: Do we understand how disinhibited we have become online?

Online Safety: Do we understand how disinhibited we have become online?

Most of us have an online presence these days, whether it’s to share our life celebrations, just surf the web for ideas, or follow what our favourite celebrities are up to – most of us have an account with a large social media company. For some of us, our toes are dipped further in, with participation in professional groups, posting events linked to our professional lives or sourcing resources and guidance online from the incredible community that is out there in education.

At my age, I remember being told our children would be ‘digital natives’ and that their world would be underpinned by technology, devices and engagement with a world online. Technology has moved rapidly and we are working, shopping and living in an ever-growing virtual world and now we are facing another change with the increasing use of marketing and language around AI.

What does AI mean for schools?

UNSESCO have developed a publication, Artificial Intelligence and Education: Guidance for Policy Makers, where they have reflected on the history, current position and direction of AI in education. It states:

‘AI is already being used in educational contexts in multiple ways. However, despite using cutting-edge technologies, these applications often do little more than automate some outmoded classroom practices, rather than using the unique affordances of AI to reimagine teaching and learning. Few possibilities that address more complex educational issues, such as collaborative learning or new ways to assess and accredit, have yet to be fully researched, let alone made available as commercial products at scale.’

The guidance hopes to engage researchers and developers in discussions about the future of some AI uses that align to UN Global Goal 4 – ‘Ensure Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Promote Lifelong Learning Opportunities For All’:

  • AI-driven lifelong learning companions
  • AI-enabled continuous assessment
  • AI-enabled record of lifelong learning achievements

Online Support and Guidance Today

As we are still a world away from AI learning companions guiding our route through the complex virtual world we live in, schools and national organisations work tirelessly to educate children and families about the ever-evolving with a huge range of amazing resources and support, with the four below being the tip of an ever-growing supportive iceberg.

 What are we contending with?

It sometimes feels like we are chasing our tails to keep up with the risks presented online as adults, and then we have to ensure we are completely up to date with the latest apps, frauds and risks online because those people who use the internet for endeavours that are illegal or meet a safeguarding threshold often appear one step ahead. Safeguarding our children online has become as great an issue, if not greater, than keeping them safe in the real world.

Children are exposed to a range of ‘normalised’ language on social media if they have free access to a range of sites and gaming platforms, sometimes well before recommended, regulated ages.

Trolling was defined in 2018 in a government reports, ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment: The Prevalence and Impact of Online Trolling’, as:

‘…an activity carried out online and associated with activities where debate is encouraged…..there is usually a perception of anonymity associated with the perpetrator …… the victim is vulnerable to exposure as trolling is a public act……trolling involves posting off-topic material, inflammatory or confusing messages……trolling can be used to create disruption and discord, to provoke a response from individuals or groups of users, or as a silencing tool to discourage users from getting involved. Trolling may be undertaken for amusement or in order to cause harm to specified targets.’

According to a survey conducted in the United Kingdom in 2022, the most common type of online abuse experienced by victims was cyberbullying, with 51 per cent of respondents stating they had faced this type of harassment. Overall, 36 per cent of respondents said that they had been trolled, and a third reported being victims of cyberstalking. Additionally, almost a fifth of those asked reported having experienced doxing (the action or process of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent).

What is Disinhibition?

In 2004, John Suler described online disinhibition as a phenomenon where individuals in cyberspace do or say things that they would not say or do in “real-life” situations as they feel less restrained and able to express themselves more freely. We are coming up to 20 years since this definition was placed online in the public domain, and our schools are still working tirelessly to teach children how to ‘behave’ safely online. He makes reference to the themes below creating a social culture where people feel that they can say and do anything online without repercussions:

  • Online anonymity and invisibility removes the emotional human connection of looking into someone’s eyes which can shape the way in which you will communicate with someone.
  • Stop / start communication online means that someone can write what they want and walk away without checking the response or the repercussions of the comment.
  • Punishment or consequences are limited when writing online and there remains a long way to go for the international social media companies to regulate and control what people do online.

 I believe that we need a clear, simple way to reinforce and teach children to take ownership of their own online safety – ensure that they understand it is their responsibility to:

  • Keep themselves safe by their own actions: who they share information with, who they interact with and how they interact.
  • Maintain appropriate interactions: understand that if you wouldn’t say it to someone in the real world you probably shouldn’t online
  • Forge great friendships in the real world and online.
  • Keep learning about the internet – learn about risk and keeping information secure.

With these four simple steps taught regularly and from an early age, I imagine a future online world where our children become the role model adults of the online world that we are constantly striving for today.

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