If you hadn’t worked out already, social media remains for the most part an unharnessed minefield where reputations or businesses can be ruined and children can be harmed emotionally, mentally and even physically when all goes to plan for bullies or predators. Same goes for grown-ups, as we’ve all seen or experience on our own community Facebook pages. Talk with anyone and you’ll no doubt hear stories of abuse, bullying and threats that have touched the lives of adults as much as children. But help is at hand amid the gloom, as Diary editor SCOTT PODMORE catches up with a true expert in the field of social media policy, Kirra Pendergast, the founder and managing director of accredited consulting group Safe on Social: www.safeonsocial.com
At a time we’re all trying to get our heads around the best way to move forward and manage this ‘new way of life’, organisations like SoS couldn’t have come along soon enough and Kirra explains her own horrible first-hand experience as a victim which inspired her mission to make things “safe on social”.
SP: Thanks for talking to the Diary, Kirra, please tell us what Safe on Social is all about?
KP: The socialisation of the web means that every photo uploaded, every post commented on and every video shared on social media has the potential to compromise an organisation’s security and destroy years of community goodwill.
SoS focuses on teaching people how to use social media with awareness. The team at Safe on Social “SoS” have translated decades of experience in information security, privacy, risk management and business consulting into the social media realm. By implement- ing tools and training to enable safe usage of social media, we
help organisations to continue to engage and grow their online communities whilst minimising risk. We provide specialist, real world experience based training to educate staff, students and their parents on personal risk management when using social media.
Late in 2015 we were honoured to be one of the first companies in Australia to be accredited by the new Office of the Commissioner of Children’s eSafety for our work in schools across Australia. We are based near Byron Bay and travel nationally.
SP: You’re obviously passionate about this whole initiative/ business for a very good reason. Would you like to share your own experience in the social media space?
KP: Let’s just say that after 18 months of constant bullying online about my looks, my weight and everything else in between, I have some great primary research! I am also dealing with the fact that I was recently informed that my bully had been posting on Instagram that there is someone trolling them and my bully has made the ridiculous assumption that it is me! When I think it might actually be my bully trying to gain sympathy. We are seeing that a lot in high school: bullies setting up fake accounts and bullying themselves to gain sympathy and deflect their terrible behaviour.
Adult online bullying is very
real, people say to switch off but
it is very, very difficult as people who care about you will continue to send screenshots with “have you seen this”, for example. The bullying brought me to my knees;
I barely left the house. I was in a very dark place and it is very easy to see why people take their own lives. After a 22-year Information Technology career predominantly focused in Information Security,
I had already spent the last eight years working in social media security, privacy and risk mostly with large government departments and healthcare. So during this time I decided to fight back and re-focused my eight-year experience in this space and founded Safe on Social. I decided to focus on educating students first and foremost, in an effort to change the culture in a generation. I am now working with 36 schools in NSW and Queensland, state, private and Catholic, and we have a suite of online tools available to them as well as face to face classes.
SP: Kirra, what do you believe are the main things people forget when it comes to social behaviour/common courtesy when tucked away behind the safety of keyboards?
KP: Common courtesy, respect and manners. My grandmother always used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Behind a keyboard there is very little accountability as the law is yet to catch up. I tried to take out a Personal Violence Protection Order when my bully repeatedly threatened me online and the judge refused, calling that facet that the threats were being made through social media “journalistic and vexatious”. I was being stalked and was very scared.
SP: That’s terrible. And no one is untouchable, would you say? It clearly can affect everyone from small children up to celebrities, businesses, sportsmen and every- day people?
KP: Correct. Everyone is vulnerable. I am seeing an enormous rise in anxiety issues in teens. There has been a phenomenal rise in students getting their parents to call the school and ask to excuse their child from public speaking, for example, as they suffer from anxiety. I could almost guarantee that this anxiety, in a lot of cases, is caused by the constant worry about being filmed on Snapchat or photographed while they are doing their speech and openly criticised on social media platforms by other students.
That is a real concern. Most schools try and ban smartphone usage in class but it still happens. Teachers are targets as well.
SP: OK then, for a school or business, in a nutshell what would you recommend as the bare essential requirements for social media policy and/or safety protocols?
KP: A robust social media policy is a must in small businesses. Most bigger businesses and government agencies have them, however, they are often out of date and need to be reviewed by an expert in the field. It protects them and their staff.
Schools should consider guidelines to support the state government policies in place to cover such things as contractors taking photos of students when they are on the campus and posting them and to make sure that staff and students really do understand what can and should not be shared on social media to respect the privacy of others and protect the wellbeing of students.
Ongoing education is key. Parents need to step up and realise that a teacher can not also be a parent. They bought their child a smartphone so they should take the responsibility to guide them in how they can and can’t use it. You wouldn’t hand your 13-year-old the keys to a car and let them drive down a busy highway without les- sons would you?
Parents should also stick to their guns and respect the fact that there are age restrictions on social media platforms for a reason. I see a load of kids under the age of 13 (the age requirement) on Instagram, for example. Parents think it is OK if they have their account set to private, always worried about people looking at their kids, but often forgetting they can’t monitor 24×7 what their kids are looking at. Take, for example, a 10-year-old girl who loves cats typing in #pussy on Instagram. Guess what she is going to see?
SP: Our own Warrandyte Facebook pages can be a complete disaster at times with some really hurtful and damaging content being posted. There’s an argument about freedom of speech, of course, but I’ve seen businesses almost get mauled to death and have talked to people who have been seriously affected. What are your thoughts?
KP: Freedom of speech is all well and good, but administrators of pages need to realise that in the eyes of the law they are considered the publisher of every comment on that page. So if someone is threatening or defaming someone in any comment or post – they are just as liable as the person who posted it.
SP: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the topic?
KP: One thing I really want to point out to your readers is that we post photos of our kids online all the time and then we complain that they don’t respect their own privacy. We have shared their photos of everything they are doing without their permission for years! No wonder they have no respect for privacy and massively over share everything they are doing online.
The horse has bolted – we cannot stop our children from using social media. Everyone under the age of 15 now has never known a world without social media. We need to catch up and realise that this is the primary communication channel for them. Their phone is their social brain and they can not manage their social life without it. We need to teach them how to use social media with awareness, respect their privacy and understand per- sonal risk.
We (safeonsocial.com) have a range of solutions that can help and is available to schools and through P&C associations where we donate a percentage of the cost back to the school for fundraising.
SP: Speaking of schools, I hear there’s been an interesting development regarding school holidays. Is it true social media may even affect your insurance claims when it comes to being robbed?
KP: Yes, believe it or not that’s correct. When you’re posting photos that clearly state you’re away you’re effectively advertising the fact that no one’s home and there- fore opens the door to be robbed. It’s likely that insurance companies could deny claims for break and enter if you’re not there. That’s a big one to think about, so if you want to post photos do it when you get home. The crooks can see from photo maps where you live on Instagram.
For more info visit the website www.safeonsocial.com