Perspectives on technology and vulnerable young people (3/4)
In this brief series, Terry Waller talks with four leading researchers to gain some personal perspectives on the role of technology in the education of vulnerable young people. The interviews aimed to provide an insight into existing practice, research gaps and potential future areas of investigation, highlighting the challenges and opportunities provided by the internet.
This third article presents the views of Stephen Carrick-Davies, Independent E-safety Consulatant.
Most young people using social media care passionately about their online status and identity. In my work with vulnerable young people looking at how they use social media, it is clear that for these young people online identity and reputation is especially important. This may be because of an absence of supportive adults in their lives, a stronger desire to fit into a group or gang identity, or simply because that person hasn’t a clear self-identity through other mainstream activities. Of course communicating through mobile technology and social media is a very social activity, but when something happens to shatter a vulnerable young person’s identity and reputation, they can feel incredibly isolated and shut out of a friendship group. Furthermore they may have very few support structures in place to help. The way that they view themselves online is therefore more important and anything which puts their reputation at risk online is something that they care about enormously.
In my work with working with young people in Pupil Referral Units and special schools, the young people identified the following ways in which their reputation online can be seriously altered:
1. Fraping (Facebook Raping) This occurs when someone ‘jumps’ on a person’s unprotected Facebook account which may have been left open on either a mobile phone or computer. The impersonator then sends inappropriate updates and posts to the owner’s friends. In the preparation work with the students from a PRU in Croydon who made a powerful film on this subject, this was one of the most upsetting aspects of using Facebook and this film is based on the actual experiences of the young people who made the film. There is also an important film about how we made this film which includes interviews with staff and pupils’ [See http://www.carrick-davies.com/mpp/whos-this]
2. Munching. (screen grabbing) Another key issue which the young people identified when it came to reputation management was Munching. This is a new app which can be downloaded and which takes a screen grab of a mobile phone screen. The result of this is that anything sent on a mobile phone can then be captured or ‘munched’ and forwarded, shared, uploaded or broadcasted to a wider audience. When photos are shared which are taken without permission and circulated the impact on the victim can be harrowing. Of course where this is intentional and repeated this is a form of cyberbullying. This theme was explored in a film which young people from a PRU in Southwark produced which can be viewed at http://www.carrick-davies.com/mpp/nice-pics
3. Online Games Of course there are other ways in which a vulnerable young person can feel that their identity and reputation is being questioned online. The young people interviewed talked about their identity as a virtual player on a multi-user game and the relationship of the character’s identity and status on power and sex in the online game. Scams too were increasingly mentioned and it is clear that some vulnerable young people are getting inappropriate Blackberry messages asking for account holders to ‘launder’ money through their accounts – again this criminal behaviour can have a real impact on a young person’s identity and standing in a group.
Tackling these issues calls for several approaches and the Munch, Poke, Ping report called for a number of important resources to be produced not just for supporting vulnerable young people but informing and supporting staff who work with these young people.
Peer education is also vital, and the reason why filmmaking has been so effective in this project is that not only does it give the young people a powerful platform through which to express their views, it also gives them opportunities to share these views, advice and insight using the social media so that other young people can learn from their experiences. This is one of the reasons why the films produced are now available on YouTube.
There are also a number of very important safety advice and tips for this group of young people which whilst apply to all users are especially important for this group. For example, it is really important that users lock their phones with a password, especially if they have a Facebook app on their mobiles. This simple advice can make a huge difference to how vulnerable an already vulnerable young person is online. Keeping evidence of misuse is also a vital message to give to these young people. It’s easy to think that deleting an inappropriate message will simply remove the offence but doing so means that there is little support that a teacher or parent – or even a police officer- can do once the evidence is removed.
Having training on these new services in non-formal settings really helps. In a way we are modelling this active engagement with young people in our project and it is very difficult to do this ‘in the classroom’ so to speak. The film about how we made the films shows how PRUs can develop training and equip young people to handle these risks online.
References: http://www.carrick-davies.com/mpp for full details of the Munch Poke Ping report and films