Online Safety Weekly Update – 28th June 2023 for Schools and Colleges

Updates this week.

  • What is social contagion?
  • WhatsApp – new features.
  • For parents – a guide to using AI with kids.
  • AI – greatest peril already happening.


What is Social Contagion?

I read a really interesting article in TES last week which was looking into whether social media drives copycat behaviour and whether this can be blamed for increases in various mental health conditions. In other words, are children ‘catching’ syndromes from the content they’re viewing online?

There has always been a certain level of copycat behaviour amongst all ages (for example, starting every sentence with ‘so…’. Where did that come from?). But due to their age, children and young people can be more susceptible.

Social contagion is described as quote the spread of ideas, attitudes or patterns of behaviour within a group, through a process of conformity unquote and more experts are pointing to social media as an influential factor in relation to various mental ill health disorders such as eating disorders, self-harm and tic-like behaviours.

The article goes into much more depth, including advice for schools and you can read it HERE.

WhatsApp New Features

As one of the most popular messaging apps around the world used (in my experience) from Year 3 upwards, WhatsApp continue to add new features to keep users onboard. Two of the newest features are the ability to edit a sent message within 15 minutes of it being sent, and ‘Keep in Chat’.

The first (edit within 15 minutes) is exactly what it says. You can send a message to someone or a group and, if you need to make changes you can do so within 15 minutes. This is good, particularly for someone who may have rushed a reply to something and didn’t critically think about it before pressing ‘Send’, or realises that the message could be taken out of context.

The second, ‘Keep in Chat’ is where someone can select certain messages that they want to keep in a folder called ‘Kept messages’.

There’s more detail to the explanation than I have given above, take a look at the Childnet article HERE for further details, including the positives and negatives to these new features.

Staff Annual CPD

As I’m sure you’re aware it is a requirement that all staff have good, annual online safety training and many schools carry this out at the beginning of the school year. I will be writing and recording a brand new staff online safety video in August, one for infants/primary and one for secondary/college. I have been doing this for a few years now and it has become very popular due to the low cost and the flexibility of a video.If you would like to receive the video ready for September just drop me an email, I will send you a quote and ask you to raise a purchase order. Once the video is ready the link will be sent to you straight away along with the invoice.

Cost (12 month licence):

Per site (not per person) – £95.00 plus VAT
Multi-site (e.g. MAT) – send me an email, let me know how many sites and I will offer a significant discount.

I will also be updating/re-recording all my other videos: governors, parents and secondary students.

For Parents – A Guide to Using AI With Kids

I’m pretty sure I have shared this resource before but in the last couple of primary schools I have visited I have been asking the children (Y5/6) how many of them are using AI, what they are using and what they are using it for. Unsurprisingly the majority of those who said yes are using ChatGPT (plus a very small number for image-based AI), this equates to roughly a third of each class, and the majority of those said they were using ChatGPT for homework and concerningly, they believed 100% what ChatGPT was telling them.

Until we receive guidance from DfE (early next year?) we’re in a grey area when it comes to the use of AI, but the fact that more and more children are using it at home means that parents need to understand what it is and the shortfalls.

Internet Matters have put some guidance for parents together which includes the terminology, a guide to some of the more popular software tools and also an interactive guide. You can access these resources HERE. SWGfL have also created a new AI hub for schools with useful information which you can access HERE.


AI – Greatest Peril Already Happening

Continuing the topic of artificial intelligence, I suspect we’re going to be talking about this a lot more next curriculum year. I’m already thinking about evolving many of my talks to take this into account. As amazing as AI can be it’s the same old thing: where there are positives there are negatives. Already we’re seeing some pretty significant and concerning negatives from image-based abuse to voice scams, where a person’s voice is cloned using AI (some research suggests you only need 3 seconds of a persons voice to clone it). Imagine a child who posts videos onto YouTube, the voice data can be extracted and cloned.

In one voice-cloning scam a parent in the United States received a call from her daughter who was screaming down the phone for help, followed by a supposed kidnapper demanding money. Her daughter’s voice had been cloned. Although an extreme (and I hope very rare) example, we cannot fall behind with this. Legislation and technical tools to combat these issues will take a long time and as always education is the best form of prevention. To read more about the voice cloning scam you can see an article in The Mirror HERE.

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