Tag Archives: Digital Citizenship

Digital Privacy is a Civil Right

There has been a lot of talk in the news about the weaponization of social media. What is often not discussed in these arguments is the interconnectedness of social media and digital, data privacy. While a great deal of attention has been paid to hacked and/or misused information (such as the Cambridge Analytica fiasco), the issues with digital privacy are much deeper than the lack of accountability by Facebook or Twitter.

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Even with all of the ink (digital and analogue) spilt on the topic, most individuals do not understand what data privacy is, why it’s important, or how it is used. The reality is that laws and regulations have not kept up with the rapid influx of computing devices and interconnected experiences in the world. As such, our information is out there – available to the world in never before seen ways, with unprecedented access and consequences. And social media (where some people argue you offer up your information freely) is not the sole bastion of privacy invasion. Internet search histories in your own home, household shopping tied to rewards or even credit cards, email exchanges, browser history, even parking data all fall into this realm of unprotected data privacy. Even more disturbing is that many of us (and our children) have smartphones which have become a portable GPS, telling our apps (and whoever they grant access to) a history of our daily travels.

Because we have virtually no regulations on how these firms collect, use, and share our data, digital privacy has become practically non-existent in the United States. The consequences for this are quite dire. For example, because we have no data privacy, it has given hostile, foreign governments an insight into our collective psyche and an avenue to sew greater decent. While Russian election meddling news coverage largely focused on conservative and right wing voters, the Russian governments insidious methods also focused on people of color. A report recently issued to the United States senate reported that Russian bots specifically targeted African Americans on Facebook and Twitter; the likely result was lower voter turnout and stoking of racial tensions and divisions in the United States.

Congress has failed to educate itself on how the internet and computing tools work, highlighted in their interviews of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. While coverage (and internet memes) focused on how clueless law makers are about “how the internet and technology work,” the real concern here should be how little congress has invested in learning about these tools and thus instituting effective protections for their constituents.

While there has been some focus on data privacy, the small and attainable semblances of it are still reserved for those who can pay. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was lauded for his speech in Brussels in which he lambasted his fellow Silicon Valley technologists for their lack of concern over privacy and highlighted that Apple does not participate in data mining and distribution. However, Apple products cost a premium for their users (often 20-30% above their competitors), reserving Apples protections for those who can afford to pay.

This is not the bastion of only online tools and hardware. In my city of Miami, the Miami Parking Authority has just announced that they will be raising parking rates for non Miami-Dade residents starting January 1. Residents will receive a discount if they register with the Park Mobile app. While this may seem benign, a little digging demonstrates that the only individuals able to register with the park mobile app must have a smartphone and a debit or credit card, meaning that it will cost a premium for the county’s poorest residents. Additionally, Park Mobile is not a government app. Rather, it is owned and operated by the BMW Group (the largest car manufacturer  in the world). This means that unless users are okay with handing over their name, address, license plate number (tied to their vehicle), and credit card along with their data privacy for where they go and where they park (along with geo-location which is enabled on the app) to a for-profit car manufacturer, they will also pay 20% or more for parking in the city of Miami.

The reality is, we live in a hybrid, digital-analogue world and these services are no longer “optional” for operating in it. Going without a smartphone and/or internet use is akin to “dropping of the grid” and makes day to day activities such as: getting work done, parking, depositing checks, and other routine actions all the more difficult, time consuming, and more expensive (or even impossible). Data privacy is more crucial than ever. We cannot rely on these companies to regulate themselves. In fact, they have proven that they will spend millions of dollars to prevent just that. The New York Times did an amazing (and disturbing) expose on Facebook’s role in Russian interference in the 2016 election and its ongoing attempts to cover up their own culpability.

While the United States has been slow to act, other than with some limitedly enforced laws relating to children’s data (see COPPA and FERPA), Europe has started to address this issue with a heavy hand. The much publicized GDPR initiative in the EU has removed the physical barriers tied to data lies and recognizes that data storage and transition operates on a global scale. It allows users to better manage their online privacy. The United States, however, has been slow to regulate and adopt. This has in part has been hampered by a lack of understanding of this issue on Capital Hill coupled with powerful lobbying by digital giants such as Facebook and Google. However, we need to do more. This issue will continue to expand and creep into our lives until it is omnipresent. If our representatives won’t address data privacy, then we as constituents must force their hands. California passed a sweeping digital privacy law just this year, it is time for other states and lawmakers to follow suit. Digital privacy is not a partisan issue, it’s an American one.

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How & Why to Report a Post on Social Media

A few weeks ago, I wrote a response to the political activation of the Parkland students entitled “Don’t Call Them the Selfie Generation!” The March for our Lives movement, along with other topics in the news, have highlighted that Social Media is powerful and impactful in the modern world. It has been especially potent in the hands of young people, as we have seen with the latest political movements surrounding school shootings. JSTOR recently posted an article highlighting “What Parkland Tells us About Teens and Social Media.”

As the story continues, and we are closer to the March 24th March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., I have been following the voices of these students who continue to talk and speak up in spite of some very real consequences like school suspension and targeted harassment from anonymous sources and political pundits. When I speak to my own students about how I can help empower their voices, they tell me: Let US speak; even if you mean well, don’t speak for us. What they want, is their voices heard.

As Twitter (my favorite social media platform) has become the platform of choice for this movement, I have started to take a few minutes every day to report targeted harassment and threats against these teens and others. Twitter has made a concerted effort to stop harassment on their platform. However, the human component is an important element for success. Therefore, as a means to help amplify their voices and support legitimate, challenging conversations on social media, I report bots and harassers. It’s pretty easy to do this. Here is a step by step way to do just that.

When you see a posting that issues threats, uses slurs, encourages self harm, or is part of a systematic threat system, you can report that account and/or that tweet. To do so, Click on the button on the top right of the tweet (it looks like a carrot). 

You will then be given the option to report the tweet.

Twitter allows you to report for a myriad of reasons (spam, harassment, etc).

Twitter allows you to report tweets on behalf of another person (which I have been doing).

 

You can also include example tweets to support the case.

Social Media is not going away any time soon. I encourage you to help make it a true democratizing place by reporting abuse, threats, bots, and spam. Amplify the voices of others by keeping them safe from harassment and threats.

 

Cybersecurity is the Most Critical Element of Digital Citizenship (and Rarely Taught)

Just recently, someone close to me was the victim of a rather pernicious form of identity theft. A criminal was able to steal their cell phone number and use it to raid their financial accounts. What followed was hours on the phone with a cell phone provider, banks, and credit agencies trying to reverse the damage already done and to prevent further fraudulent activity.

This type of crime is becoming more prevalent. However, few people are aware of how common this type of identity theft is becoming. In fact, cell phone numbers are being viewed as the new social security number. Many of us have had our numbers for years… even decades. Many individuals have eschewed landlines for cell phones. Additionally, if you run a business or network, you likely give your cell number to a lot of people. Couple this with some rather high profile data breaches and you have a recipe for an identity theft crisis.

However, many individuals (adults and children) are woefully ignorant on the needs for cybersecurity and protecting various elements of their identity in the meantime. Students may be taught “don’t share your password,” rarely are they instructed in the merits of two-factor authentication.

Cybersecurity crimes in the form of identity theft are on the rise and will likely continue to be a challenge going forward. If we are not preparing students to protect their information and take action when their security is breached, we are doing them a disservice.

Edutopia’s New Resources on Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship is always a hot topic with both educators and their schools. I have long been critical of the “stranger danger” focus of most digital citizenhsip curricula. This focus has over-exaggerated the risks of online predators and misinformed a generation of children and their parents, often with detrimental effects.

I was so happy to see Edutopia’s updated curriculum and guidelines, What Your Students Really Need to Know about Digital Citizenship, crafted by the esteemed educator Vicki Davis. It focuses on students created robust passwords (that they don’t share with others), not posting private information, not sharing without permission, the idea of media ownership, and more.

With this ideas coupled with Common Sense Media’s curriculum or the new one introduced by Google, you will be well prepared to help your students be successful online.

Tweens & The Cell Phone Conversation

Back to School shopping has started. Here in Florida, we kick off “tax free weekend,” which allows parents and students to purchase back to school items and pay no sales tax. Items included on that list: clothing, school supplies, computers, tablets, and smart phones! For many parents of tweens, the start of the school year also marks the start of the “cell phone conversation.” Do I get my child a smart phone? If so, what kind of smart phone? What limits do I put on them? Is it yet age appropriate for my child to have a phone?

So, how do you start the cell phone conversation with your child? Or, if you are a teacher or school administrator, how do you advise parents? There are a few ways to get the conversation going and things for you to consider.

Is a smart phone Age-Appropriate?

I feel comfortable telling parents that a child should not have their own device if they are younger than double digits. While I have seen 8 and 9 years olds playing on devices, those devices should ultimately belong to an adult. After the age of 10, however, it becomes a little more challenging. It would be easiest if I could tell parents that X age is the right age for their child to get a smartphone. However, the reality is that every child is different.

Your child is unique in their maturity and tolerance for responsibility. A smartphone is a big responsibility. A few comparable questions: Do I feel comfortable leaving my child home alone for a few hours? Does my child take care of their toys (e.g. clothing, other electronics, etc)? Would I allow my child to supervise other children? These questions tell you a few things: Can my child safely navigate without adult supervision? Can they care for an expensive piece of electronics? Can my child effectively and safely manage and engage with others without adult supervision?

Have a Conversation About the Responsibility of a Smartphone

I know, I know… this sounds so cheesy. But the reality is that, like driving a car, getting a smartphone is a big responsibility. They are entering a new world of freedom and flexibility. One in which they can, likely will (and developmentally should) make some mistakes and missteps. If you want to know more about what kids really “get up to” 13893168079_a584a41d83_bonline, check out danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (this link gives you access to a free PDF version of the book). danah’s (yes, she spells it that way) book gives you a realistic look at how children engage with one another online. Here are some questions to discuss with your child:

  • What will you do if you see something that makes you uncomfortable online?
  • What will you do if you think that a friend or a classmate is being mean to you or someone else?
  • How will you react if someone makes you angry online?
  • What will you do if you think you have made a mistake in how you have acted online?
  • What will you do if your phone breaks or gets dropped in water?

This should be realistic conversations. Try not to use scare tactic examples. Pull things from real life:

“One time, Aunt Edna and I got into an argument because she responded to my selfie by saying ‘You look soooo fat!’ It turned out that she was being sarcastic and meant it as a compliment; I had recently lost weight. I thought that she was being mean. We didn’t speak for two weeks because neither of tried to clear up the communication. What could we have done better?”

Set Boundaries for Your Child & Yourself

Boundaries are important in all facets of life, including electronics. Sit down and have a conversation with your child about rules and boundaries for their new device – both for you and for them. Make a physical list that you post in your home. Think of this as an evolving process. Some of these may change as the child gets older or if you or your child feel it needs to shift. Additionally, consider consequences for violating boundaries (loss of a privilege?) Parents, keep in mind that modeling is especially important! A few items for you to consider:

  • Will there be a “no smartphone” time? For example family meals? Homework/reading time?  Family events? Bedtime?
  • Will parents be monitoring smartphone use?
  • When (during the day) is it acceptable to text? For example, what about during the school day? Parents, keep in mind that if you text a child during class-time, you may be enabling behavior you don’t want!
  • What is acceptable to share online? When should you get permission to post or share something?
  • Where will the phone be kept at night? It is often recommended to remove smartphones from children’s bedrooms at night to avoid temptation. Charge them in a parent’s room or a neutral place.

Keep Yourself Informed

Have regular conversations with your child about what they do online. Reinforce the idea that you are a trusted adult and they can come to you when they run into problems. To me, that is the most vital part of tween cell phone ownership – knowing that their parents can and will help them if they find themselves in uncomfortable situations or have made a poor decision. Some great resources for parents:

If you have some thoughts or contributions, please share them in the notes below!

 

Lesson Plan for Teaching Kids to Spot Fake News

Fake News is the phrase du jour. The reality is that misinformation propagates social media (especially Facebook). With the proliferation of Social Media and the use of Social Media (by main stream news organizations, political pundits, and our sitting President), it will remain a platform for sharing information (including the news) for the foreseeable future. Both Facebook and Google have made attempts to tackle fake news. In addition to their own filtering methods, Facebook allows users to flag and report fake news stories. Google has also expanded its fact-check tools to spot and flag fake news.

The reality is, however, that we cannot expect our online platforms to keep up with the deluge of fake media. Media literacy is a necessary skill for our students to learn in order for them to wade through the glut of information available to them online. However, a recent study from Stanford found that most students cannot tell real news from fake.

There is an exercise that I like to do with my students. We talk about the realities of fake news, perhaps ask them to share stories that they thought were real, but later learned were fake. I share with them resources for spotting fake news:

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Next, I ask them to create a Fake News Story for me. Something that they are likely to see online via Facebook. For this exercise, students often create the obvious: “You Won’t Believe what the Democrats did this Time!” or “Donald Trump is Getting Impeached!” examples. These stories are the most obvious to spot.

The best exercise, however, comes when I ask them to team up and we make a game out of each. Each team presents five news stories. Three of those news articles are fake, two are real. If they are able to “trick” the opposing teams, they receive 1 point for each news article they fool the opposition into believing. They receive 1 point for each article they correctly identify as fake. Students then work really hard to “trick” their classmates – they play off of one another’s known biases, create convincing “news networks,” and spell check like no one’s business! They learn the ins-and-outs of posting and sharing news, viral marketing, and deceptive practices. This makes them better discerners of published media and more able-minded digital citizens.

3 Ways Schools can Help Users to Protect their Accounts from Malware, Phishing, & Cyber-scams.

Recently, G-Suite users were hit by a large phishing scam. Users were sent an email that appeared to be from Google and asked to click on a document for collaboration. The

nefarious document then gave the sender access to your whole account, including your directory, enabling it to spread. While phishing is nothing new, it has become more problematic and sophisticated. As such, it’s especially important to include some cyber-security basics as soon as students start to have access to digital tools.

Identify Scams

Most scams are pretty easy to identify. You are sent a typo laden email from someone you don’t know asking you to “check this out.” However, as email spoofing becomes more prominent, it’s important to not just open an attachment even if you know the user. There are a few red flags: the email is full of typos and errors, it doesn’t fit the tone of the sender (e.g. would your teacher be sending an email that says “check this out!”), or it just doesn’t feel right.

Keep your Operating System & Security Software Up to Date

Yes, updates can be annoying – they take a long time and may require a hardware restart in the middle of the day. However, keep your operating system and security software up to date is essential to cyber-security. While you may not want to update to the latest Windows or iOS software on day 1 (a brand new OS may have a bug or two, as early iOS 10 adopters learned when it bricked several phones), you should do so shortly after the release. Critical security updates should be installed regularly as they plug security holes and fix exploitable bugs.

Enable Two Factor Authentication

Two factor authentication is a security measure that grants you access to your account or device only after you have presented two methods of authentication (e.g. your account password and a code texted to your phone or sent to an email). It has been around for a while, but many users never enable it. Two Factor Authentication may feel like a pain, but it is the best possible defense against potential hackers or nefarious users. If you have ever been locked out of your account because another user has gained access, you know how difficult it can be to regain access and the damage that can be done to your reputation or your pocket book. Enable two factor authentication on all of your sensitive accounts (bank accounts, email, social media, etc). The extra 30 seconds it takes to log in will be worth it!

These are just a few ways that students can protect their devices and accounts from malware, phishing, and cyber-scams. However, as cyber attacks become more sophisticated, network administrators and users must become more savvy. It’s important to keep up your skills and consistently train your community. I encourage administrators to attend cyber-security webinars and workshops, such as ATLIS’s Cyber-Security Workshop in Chicago this summer.