Monday, 6 October 2014

Cybersafety - The Secret Project!

Blog post from Lisa Williams - St Margaret's College, Christchurch

What can we do to keep our students safer on the internet?

Students listening to teachers (and therefore adults) about what they should and shouldn't do on the internet regularly goes in one ear and out the other so we need to become innovative with our approaches.  When discussing these issues with my Year 10 Rite Journey class (all girls), we came up with a plan. This plan turned into an exceptionally powerful project.

So this is how it went....

We created a fake Facebook page for a 14 year old 'very attractive' boy.  A lot of thought went into the back story and photos by the class, and strict rules were put into place about what the girls were allowed to do on this page. Our goal was to see how many Facebook friends we could get in 4 weeks. Obviously for this to be effective, the class had to keep this a secret!  A very tall ask for teenage girls but they took this responsibility very seriously. The project was never leaked out. Each day we would discuss what was happening, and it opened up so many different discussions and their own eyes about what others say and do on their facebook page.

The last post on the facebook page created:

This is a fake page. Sam Cooper was set up by a Year 10 class as a project! 
After 3 days this non existent person had 110 friends
After 7 days = 250
After 14 days = 350
After 21 days = 390
After 28 days = 560+
We received private messages from over 100 of you, with all sorts of information.
We received 20+ phone numbers.
This person could have been anyone - it is not safe to accept friend requests from people you don't ACTUALLY know.
Go through your facebook friends and delete anyone you don't know!

Yes I know we pushed all the boundaries here but I think this is our only chance, we need to be far more innovative in our approach. Most students thought it was a great assembly and they have got the message and a big fright in the process.  A few thought it was very deceitful, hopefully the penny will drop with those students one day very soon.

I'm not sure why but it never ceases to amaze me how naive Middle School students are when it comes to keeping themselves safe on the internet. In a variety of ways we attempt to educate our students about privacy settings, what to share and more importantly what not to share on the magnitude of apps our students use.  As a fully digital school, we do have a huge responsibility to keep our students safe.

So what did we actually discover and what happened during our 4 week period:

After 3 days - we had 110 friends and private messages from 21 people
After 7 days - 250 friends and messages from 38 people
After 14 days - 350 friends and messages from 48 people
After 21 days - 390 friends and messages from 73 people
After 28 days - 560 friends and messages from 100 people and we also received 20 cell phone numbers

After 4 weeks we called an assembly for our Middle School.  A slide of Sam's facebook cover was shown and they were asked who knew this boy.  I indicated that we were really lucky to have Sam with us today to share a story and could Sam please stand up.  My entire class stood up.
The silence was deafening. The joy of seeing students squirming in their seats was priceless.  What followed was an exceptionally powerful message that maybe, just maybe had an impact.

We discussed the fact that Sam could have been anyone, wanting photos and other information.  I did push the boundaries by showing photos from the girls' pages.  I made no apologies for this as they had in fact given access to anything on their pages by becoming friends with this non existent person. It clearly made the point that, although these photos were completely innocent in the right hands, they were certainly not if in the wrong hands.

Our main messages included not accepting friend requests from people you don't 'actually know yourself', ensuring your privacy settings are correct and only posting information that you would be happy for your grandparents to see. Of course we have given this information many times before, but suddenly this time it actually meant something.

There was a lot of discussion after the assembly by both students and staff.  An email home to all parents explaining what we had done has also allowed them to open up discussions at home.  A lot of girls do seem to have gone away and deleted many 'friends' or at least people they don't know off their pages.  Poor Sam Cooper lost 100 friends overnight!


  1. I was lucky enough to have been at the Middle School assembly when this project was unveiled and Lisa is right, you could hear a pin drop! Digital safety is something that we are all conscious of and try hard to get the message across to our students to keep themselves safe online. It often feels like we're just not getting through! It was so great to see that Lisa cracked it with this project which has had a profound impact on our girls. We have had numerous girls deleting Facebook friends and shutting down old accounts to create new ones - only requesting and accepting true friends. It sparked rich dialogue amongst students and teachers! Well done Lisa on an innovative, real approach to teaching digital safety that put the students at the centre!

    1. This comment might appear twice ... the Publish button didn't like me the first time.

      I was at the assembly as well. It was one of the most effective presentations and projects about digital safety I have ever seen. Well done to Lisa and her class. The presentation was then followed up with a presentation from a student who had experienced the worst of AskFm. This was very powerful in terms of a peer of the students telling them her real life experience.

  2. What an outstanding "experiment"! FaceBook are very responsible on the surface of it all ( but do very little in real terms to protect our youngest (and at risk) digital citizens. Try and report an inappropriate group and see what I mean...
    Teaching them how to be more "street wise" is a sensible and effective approach and I can just imagine the shock on the girls' faces when they realised they had been conned, albeit for a valuable bigger picture.
    Here are some pretty spooky links to help get the message to hit home a bit more, if needed:

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa. What a powerful experience for the girls. One of my former students told me all about this and was highly animated and passionate about it- you definitely made your point clear.

    Thanks for this very valuable contribution to Chched and for having the well being of Christchurch kids at the core of all you are doing at St Margaret's. Thank you!

    Bridget C-M

  4. Hi Lisa, thank you for sharing your project with us. What a personal and powerful way of educating your girls. I am sure the experience will have had a deep and lasting effect on many of them. I look forward to sharing your work with my students.

  5. What a powerful project! Very much enjoyed reading this blog. The students who were at this assembly will be thinking about 'Sam Cooper' for years to come.