Public Visibility

I have an RSS feed set up that automatically scans the Google news feeds for the phrase “PLC Sydney” or “Presbyterian Ladies College“, so anytime either of those phrases appear in a news publication worldwide I get notified of it.  (Which, if you want to monitor your school’s online public image, is a useful thing to set up by the way!)  While I do get the occasional mention of other Presbyterian Ladies Colleges such as the ones in Melbourne or Perth, and occasionally the abbreviation PLC Sydney turns up some non-related stuff, having the RSS feeds scanning the news for mentions of your school is handy.

Recently, I spotted this article in one of the local papers.  It was a project that I didn’t even even realise was taking place in the school so I was surprised when I spotted it.  (I also like the idea that some of our teachers are now doing interesting projects that use ICT and they don’t need me to make it happen!  Yay! The good kind of redundant!)

What I find amusing is that the newspaper has published the name of the school and the full names of the students, along with a photo… three pieces of information that the cybersafety experts will all tell you should not be made available online.  I suspect that if one of our teachers got their students to do an in-class online project that published their full name, school and photo, they would get a stern talking to.  However, there is still a belief that, because it was published “in the paper” (which also happens to be online) then it’s ok.

We do, in fact, have a “Do Not Publish” list of students, which is derived from a form that all parents fill out at the start of their enrolment at school.  On this form they give advance permission – or not – for their child’s photo and name to be used in school publications.  We keep a record that covers both print and online separately, and before any child’s details can be published we check the Do Not Publish list.  In reality, out of a school of 1300 kids K-12, we have maybe less than 10 whose parents have elected for them to remain unpublishable.

Personally, I think that the benefits of getting some press for the students, either online or in a more traditional format, is enormous. Sporting achievements, success in interschool competitions, musical events, academic successes, etc… these things are all worthy of celebrating and telling the world about. The boost that these kids get to their self esteem, their reputation and their public visibility is a positive thing and these sorts of publications can start to form the basis of their longer term footprint, digital or otherwise.  While we have to respect the wishes of parents who choose not to allow their children to be published (and sometimes those wishes are based on valid reasons and sometimes it’s just paranoia and fear) the kids who do get published “in the paper” really love seeing themselves there.

In a world where being “in the paper” also means being online, this opens a real can of worms. We tell the kids one thing as we drill cybersafety into them – don’t give away details like your name or school – yet we gladly celebrate them being published online in other more traditional forums using all of these very same details.  It’s an interesting double standard.  The local paper is published to the open web with no passwords, no restrictions, yet we baulk at getting kids to publish the same information about themselves to other formats that are equally as open and public.

Thank goodness that all those fears about online safety are so blown out of proportion or this might actually be a real problem.

PS: By the way, if you haven’t seen it, the students’ final work is online at and is worth seeing.  I’m sure they’d love a comment or two if you get a chance.

Photo embedded from the Inner West Courier

CC BY-SA 4.0 Public Visibility by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

11 Replies to “Public Visibility”

  1. Since most child predation incidents occur locally, I wonder if the local paper is MORE (or at least as) dangerous than, say, the school web site which is available to ‘the web.’ Moreover, I have yet to hear of a student being preyed upon because of exposure on a school web site; how about you?

    The statistical prevalence of ‘stranger danger’ – true strangers (instead of family members and other folks that kids already know) preying on children is incredibly low. As usual with this Web stuff, our fears are greatly overblown and usually get in the way of doing what’s right for students.

    1. Hi Scott,

      Agreed. I also wondered about the fact that it was a local paper… if you really were planning to prey on kids, then it would make sense to find the local kids in your local paper. And no, I’ve never heard of a students being preyed upon due to a school website.

      In fact, if you were to look at the statistics and be really serious about removing children from dangerous situations where the evidence-based research suggests that they have a genuine risk of being a victim to predatory behaviour, you’d start by limiting their access to older family members such as uncles, as well as catholic priests and other members of the clergy.

      Statistically speaking, my child is in more danger from spending time with a catholic priest than from having her name and photo published on a website somewhere. Sad isn’t it.

      1. Sadder still Chris is that your daughter is probably safe with a priest, it’s your son you’d need to worry about!

        Agree though, on the general safety of students who are on school sites and school projects. Most online predators find their ‘victims’ amongst the socially isolated and emotionally dysfunctional families whose children cannot talk to their parents about things online that make them uncomfortable or someone online who seems to be becoming too familiar with them. Parents need to talk with their children frequently about their online ‘friends’ who are not school mates.

      2. More than the local paper, someone looking for victims can find them in large yellow boxes on wheels that drive around neighborhoods dropping them off at predictable times and locations. I have yet to hear anyone suggest that schools vary bus routes and drop-off times, or have kids wear disguises to keep them safe.

  2. It is so sad that we have to consider these kinds of distributions. I am surprised that newspapers on’t have their own policies in relation to children and publications.

  3. As a rule, I often only use first names in press releases for newspapers. I like your “Do not publish” list .. great idea to compile this upon enrollment to respect parent views.

    The greater proportion of students are assaulted by people that they already know or are related to. Most assaults are not reported. If we want to ramp up our school security and privacy to improve protection, we would consider building 2 metre high walls around the playgrounds, black-out classroom windows and insist that they be hidden from view as they scurry too and from school. Then we need to consider the emotional damage from this insulation.

    The reality is that schools are social places that celebrate small community achievements and reproduce the culture of our society. Sadly, we are also promoting the fears and phobias that many adults have about working online instead of working build student resiliance and positive behaviour.

    Good blog post Chris.

  4. I’ve found it odd for a long time that the paranoia surrounding online recognition of kid’s names is not reflected in parent’s views about their kids’ names being ‘in the paper’. Actually I find it quite ludicrous that I can google many of my student’s names and find out who they are, how old they are, where they go to school and which sporting team they play for and at what time and location they can be found but if I want to display some of their amazing activities on the school website I have to be ‘careful’ not to identify them!

    I imagine it’s because the paper (especially the local one), is a known entity,as opposed to the scary and unfamiliar internet. I think we spend a bit too much time talking about the dangers of online activity and not enough time promoting the benefits and demystifying the medium for our school community.

    As Scott & Janet so rightly point out, our kids are in far more danger inside their homes than online.
    Great blog post.

  5. Hey Chris

    Interesting post. I’ve made comments like this to local community groups and sports associations that my kids are involved in.

    My scepticism of these cyber safety ‘rules’ lies mainly in the fact that, if a predator was looking for random ‘prey’, he wouldn’t be scouring papers or websites – he’d be out in the streets looking for a random kid.

    Your name and any details about you on the Internet may mean someone can find your school or home, but in the end, the danger lies in communicating with these people, not in them knowing that you exist.

    For me, the ‘don’t post’ laws really come into play if the child engages (or will engage!) in social communication using the Internet. This is where it becomes a greater risk, as your digital footprint makes it easier to trace you in the future.

    Traditionally, tracing a person via archived newspapers would take a crazy amount of time, but the Internet allows this to happen in less than a second. I wonder how many papers archive ALL their content, such that it remains searchable?

    I was able to find out the names of a student’s parents, her brother’s name, the country town she lived in, thus her address, the school bus she caught home and what time it picked her up and dropped her off all from her name, and knowing the name of her school.

    The major risk, I believe, with posting details on the web is that they stay there, and newspaper publishers and other media organisations have an obligation to respect people’s privacy, and to not add to their digital footprint.

    I really believe that issues such as this one should be raised at a much higher level, so that the entire community can help take responsibility for the wellbeing of our youth.

    One last thing: are you saying that there are statistics that show that more children have been harmed by priests than by people who found details about them on the Internet? That seems difficult to believe…

    1. I don’t know… you tell me…

      It’s hard to know what to make of statistics… especially in the areas of child abuse and child sexual molestation. So much goes unreported, both from what might happen as a result of online contact and also from other sources such as being interfered with by family members and others such as clergy. Certainly there were numerous coverups in the catholic church over the years, and who knows what the truth is? It’s hard to compare and draw any real concrete conclusions.

      One thing seems abundantly clear to me though… we carry on about the dangers of online contact, putting walls around our children and protecting them from all sorts of real and imagined dangers. We spend millions of dollars building walled gardens that provide a safe place for them to work online. Our schools ban and restrict open access to the web on the logic that, even if the risk is small, the danger could be catastrophic.

      Yet, we don’t stop our children from going to church, or attending a religious school. There’s clear evidence that these religious institutions HAVE done some terrible things to children in the past, but we don’t react to the church by placing bans and restricted access and enforcing isolation from it. Whether there are more children harmed by priests (and others) than harmed by online predators is not the point… there are certainly enough that have been harmed, unarguably and without question, that you’d have to acknowledge it represents a risk… and yet we don’t respond the same way to this known and verifiable danger. Why?

      I’m not saying the internet is totally safe. I’m just saying that there are other places, people and events that you could argue also present a statistically verifiable risk and yet we don’t react the same way.

      I’ sure I did read somewhere that the vast majority of child abuse cases are perpetrated by someone close to the child, often a family member. If we’re really serious about child safety and mitigating risk, we’d be doing something about that, but we don’t, because we can’t.

      Just sayin’.

      1. Would it not be best to forget the wall and teach our children what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior between individuals? I know, next comes the uproar “I don’t want my child to know about that!” We do not want to destroy innocence but at the same time do not want ignorance to push a child into a dangerous situation.

        I think the very least real worry we have is promulgating student achievements on the Internet. It’s just the only thing that is ‘easily’ walled.

      2. Yeah – I read a report somewhere that said something like this:

        about 85% of cases of child-abuse, where Internet contact was a contributing factor, were committed by a 17-28 year old male, previously known to the victim.

        I hope I have got that right… I wish I could find the reference for it!!!

        I agree with your second-last paragraph there, Chris – about other places, people and events with which we don’t place as much emphasis on caution! Have you seen the “Wo ist Klaus?” (Where’s Klaus?) video?

        I’m not sure (again!) of the original source, but I have copied it to YouTube here:

        It emphasises the importance of protecting students online in the same way that you would protect them in real life. I wonder how much of a commotion it would have caused if the guy at the end were a priest!

        This is a tricky situation – one that needs to be aired and dealt with carefully, as the answers aren’t cut and dried, at all.

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