The second semester of my teacher training opened like the first: with a lecture about the dangers of the internet. In fact as I publish this a follow-up session has been announced on the “important and complex topic” of cybersafety. How much more can we take?
This last rehearsal of “hide everything” came from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), who accompanied their presentation with a couple of films. The first traces a person’s digital footprint from announcement of birth to commemorative Facebook page. Its message: that your online persona is both ubiquitous and out of control. The second showed a young person attending a job interview at which his prospective employer claims to be reading his resume. Instead the boss scrolls through his Facebook albums with a look of concern bordering disgust. For several seconds viewers are positioned with the employer, looking back at the applicant’s confusion and discomfort, knowing he’s doomed. “I think that speaks for itself,” said the presenter.
But does it? For me the scenario is troubling not for the photos shown on the young man’s page but for our presumed collusion in his non-employment. His training and professional experience apparently qualify him for the job, and none of the images display illegal or antisocial behaviour. But ACMA’s interpretation was plain: your schoolies photographs can act as a criminal record.
Later the presentation focused on our prospective students, a generation with digital footprints like nothing we’ve ever seen. For these people, setting Facebook to private won’t cut it: there’s enough digital evidence about each of them to make a whole generation unemployable. And what should teachers do about it? Well, set Facebook to private.
Clearly it’s time for this discussion to mature. Its contradictions are palpable, and young people are already rejecting a discourse that makes them victims then blames them for it. As a teacher I look forward not to alarming my students but to seeing how their generation transforms “cybersafety.”