Me myself I am what I am

11 Feb

I’ve attended a couple of online safety presentations over the years, the first being back in October 2007 delivered by Ollie Bray at Musselburgh High School, and more recently at my local school delivered by my esteemed OH himself, Neil Winton. Both these guys are CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) trained and Ollie’s presentation was the first to use CEOP’s, at the time new, parent training materials.

What struck me is that despite the two year gap between these presentations how similar were the questions raised by parents. There is clearly a need for continually delivering this type of thing, in waves perhaps, as I think many parents don’t really think about teaching their children how to take responsibility for their own safety online until they are already hacking the cyber-sitting software and resisting constant parental supervision.

I’ve always considered myself a fairly well informed parent when it comes to the intertube highway, I have a 20 year career in IT behind me and introduced all my children to computers and the online word at around 18 months. Even the clunky version back when my fast approaching 15 year old was but a baby (ouchie!). My initial reaction to the CEOP material was to dismiss it as over dramatic sensationalism. It focusses quite narrowly on child sexual exploitation online and I would argue that the figures for this particular and specific crime don’t support the privileged position it holds. As we know, most sexual exploitation of children is perpetrated in the home by “trusted” adults.  But until there are no children falling victim to online predators, CEOP’s work teaching parents and children how to stay safe will remain sadly essential.

For an insight into some of the issues faced by both parents and children regarding online safety, a quick browse through the ConnectSafely forums is quite an eye-opener.

The last couple of days have revealed to me that even adult online communites can experience a bit of a hiccup when it comes to balancing privacy and safety. Without going into any details, since they are not really the important thing here, a debate began about the wisdom of sharing personal details with online contacts for use in emergency situations. The motivation for raising the issue was undoubtedly sincere and well intentioned but I seem to be alone in questioning raising the idea in a public space.

Kidsmart UK have a 5 point Smart Plan that encourages children to stay safe online but I think it’s something we should all bear in mind, whatever age we are.


Top of the list is not to share your personal details with people you “meet” online. If this is a rule we think suitable for children we adults should at least give this advice some consideration. Of course, we would hope to be better placed and have more  experience and skills to judge people than children, but the bottom line is that  we can never be sure that the people we form friendships with online are actually who they say they are. Apart from the people who know me in meat space, nobody reading this knows for a fact that I even exist! That these are my children…

…or that I live in the village I say I live in with the man I say I live with. I could be a complete virtual construct who has trawled cyber space for details of a family to front my fake persona. I might not even be female.

Why would I put so much effort into a charade like that? Many people would jump to the conclusion that a fake online person must be a monster, a predator, a deviant… but I could just as easily be a marketing front for a company who wishes to target any one of the online communities I participate in.

I’m not!

But I could be.

And that alone reveals a multitude of forseeable and avoidable scenarios facing an unsecure online community that openly discusses the sharing of personal details. When talk takes place in a community, it’s easy to feel there’s a degree of security, that the community is a contained unit, but all it takes is one monster, one predator, one deviant to inveigle their way into that community, to pose as a valid, valuable member and take advantage of that community’s openness… with just a little bit of imagination…

An open community that publicly voices its willingness to share the same information we encourage our children to protect opens itself up to any number of cyber attacks, identity theft, manipulation and exploitation. As adults there is even more information about us online than our children. We are on the electoral role, details of our property, maps and purchase history are just a couple of clicks away. Even the best of friends can fall-out and once the information is shared it cannot be un-shared.


Most crime is directed at adults, not children, and we do our children no favours if we insist that they protect their privacy without at least thinking about how much we want to protect it ourselves.

In an endeavour to be as transparent as possible, and ensure that my validity as an actual human being bearing a close resemblance to the one I project online isn’t questionable, I myself break many of the rules we would normally apply to children. I use our real names, I post photographs and I link my social spaces to each other to create that “bigger picture”. MrW blogs in his capacity as a professional educator so our rough location is no secret. In fact our exact location wouldn’t take anyone with a bit of Googling skill longer than 5 minutes to find out. I chose for it to be that way after considering all of the above so  I’m sure as Sherlock not advising anyone, anywhere, to chose differently! I heartily endorse online transparency but I can only endorse it for me. I would never suggest it for anyone else without also pointing out the possible downside. And I do my best not to tinker with anyone else’s privacy comfort zone.

You didn’t think I really knew people called Jemima and Tallulah did you?

I’m real enough.

I think it’s you guys that are all madey-uppy!


10 Responses to “Me myself I am what I am”

  1. Barbara February 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Drat, and I was planning to come and visit you. Now I know that you’re just some evil facade, I’ll just go and see Marylin instead.

    • mrsw February 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

      And how do you know she’s not some 80 year old perv huh? huh?

      • Barbara February 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

        Good point, I’ll await her response with interest!

        • mrsw February 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

          Admit it – you’re just hoping

        • Barbara February 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

          I’m saying nuthin’ at this point!

          Marylin, come and stand up for yourself, your reputation is being besmirched.

  2. Kelly February 11, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    I am finally pretty comfortable with my online transparency, but I have suffered some criticism. My lovely aunt (a slightly paranoid school teacher) cannot manage to keep the software on her computer updated and frequently forgets how to operate her television, but she felt bold enough to say, “You know you aren’t anonymous online, right?” Sigh. I’ve also met mothers who will not even post their own photo on facebook, let alone any of their children…because of the “perverts”. I read some advice about blogging that made a lot of sense to me and I went with it. Fake names never work. Your true identity will eventually come out if you write long enough, so why bother. I am now facebook friends with a few bloggers who use fake names on their blogs. I know all the real names now and I suppose that’s because I have gained a level of trust with them, but they don’t know that I’m not a wolf in mommy clothing. It seems like a lot of bother. Instead I choose to be sensitive to the feelings of those I write about. I don’t write about my family a lot, because they secretly read my blog. Despite my openness, they still feel like they are reading a diary or something. I always ask permission before posting face photos of other people’s kids and I try to be fair, if not always nicey-nice.

    I think the real issue is that we have a great divide between people who are at ease with the cyber world and those who are afraid of it. You can embrace the new world or you can believe that internet elves are going to come through the screen and suffocate you in your sleep. I love the new world! Really, it’s the only way I get to talk to other grown-ups.

    • mrsw February 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

      There’s nothing to beat a bit of moral panic on a sunny Thursday afternoon – come join me on the deviancy amplification spiral – today I think I’m heading doooowwwwwn 🙂

      I think that whole MckMama thing last year really highlighted the consequences of getting just a bit too smug for your online boots.

      And April Rose? Shoot even I fell for that one (until about 10 minutes after the “birth”!)

      We sometimes end up skipping down a tricky path and not even realising it. But the truth will out, as both these bloggers found by very different routes.

  3. cartside February 11, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    I don’t believe there’s true anonymity. That’s a blessing and a curse. For those predators it means they too can be tracked down. I feel it’s important to realise that even if you use a made up name and try to retain some privacy (like me – I also don’t use my child’s name or show her face in pictures), this is no guarantee that your identity will remain anonymous. So I make sure that whatever I post can be read by anyone, and it works well for me. And yes, I do disclose my name to people I think I know and I trust – a judgement call, but one I feel comfortable with.

    It’s really useful to consider the risks and then decide what is right for each individual person.
    Incidentally, I’ve just delivered the 11-16 year old presentation to a group of young parents and they found it very useful, both for themselves and for their children. I think it helped them being more confident in their usage of the internet, rather than being scaremongered. And it gave them ideas of how to keep their children safer and think about how they would approach their children’s internet usage.

    The problem is that online grooming and lying is so very easy, and many don’t realise this. And awareness is definitely useful to empower people to make their own decisions.

  4. Heather February 12, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    I can’t imagine the work it must be to keep up a fake charade, i wouldn’t have the energy. Maybe I am too open in my blog, perhaps my geographical distance from most gives me a sense of security.

    I think we do come to know and trust people over the internet, as much as we can come to know and trust anyone you meet in real life -who’s to say that they are who they say they are, there are a lot of con artists out there making a living from just such assumptions- and often we share a lot more, open up and show our more vulnerable side to those that we meet over the net. i think it’s human nature to then feel trust and a bond with people.

    It is worrying though to think about the example we are setting. when my kids get to internet using age, how will i get them to keep their details close to their chest if I am throwing mine aorund for all the world to see?

  5. Dad Who Writes February 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Hmm. Tricky. Mine are also already deeply engaged with the internet, though social networking sites haven’t raised their heads yet. Generally, I’ve yet to be let down by the people I’ve connected with off-piste, so to speak – but I’ve been very cautious about it, especially since Dad Who Writes is sometimes quite a personal blog. My other blog is very public and work related – but work information about me is in the public domain anyway.

    The whole personal contact details thing on Twitter recently left me quite uneasy, by the way.

    (Must google MckMama – sounds fascinating)

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