Paedophiles: WMD

I get asked a lot: What is the greatest challenge facing schools? I get asked this because I lobby a bit to bring programming into schools, and that in itself invites great discussion

I want to say the following, but I never do as the publications I get asked to quote for would never publish this but my answer is…

Paedophiles

Parents are terrified of them

Kids don’t know who they are

Teachers live in fear of being accused (fairly or unfairly) of being one

Nothing I or anyone else can do or say will ever beat the Stranger Danger fear, a successful campaign of the 20th Century that echoes through the decades of the 21st Century.

In a world of fear no Spring can overcome, analogue schools will fail in a digital world.

The school solution to the digital renaissance is to close, protect and hide pupils and educators from the digital unknown. Stranger danger fear from the 70s and 80s affect the approach to the Internet being imposed on children and parents. Those very parents who more often than not have little knowledge of what digital skills are being taught in schools vs the savviness required to avoid dangerous situations in real or digital worlds.

There are so many levels to this, but there are two obvious splits right now:

  • how do you protect your child in a digital world? Answer: the same as you do offline, inform them of danger, give them the equivalent of the Green Cross Code for online – most kids will spot a fake profile or paedophile before any adult could, definitely – but it takes guts and a horrible step that has to be taken too early, to ruin the blush of innocence that before your 7 year old daughter can play Stardoll, for example, you must mention paedophiles
  • How do you allow your child the freedom to learn online? Perhaps the only place they can pick up some of the digital skills necessary for them to practice basic or advanced programming (should they so desire) and at the same time protect them from paedophiles? (Who now come in all forms: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-girl-who-became-three-boys)

That’s the real challenge.

This blog post is intentionally ill-thought-through. I do not have the answers, but I would like you to ask yourselves the questions and think about this.

I run Young Rewired State and we have to, rightly so, run ourselves in circles to ensure that no-one gets near these kids without our knowledge of who they are and their provenance. As we grow we need to address this at scale – a problem we will certainly be facing in 2013.

We are a single and relatively small organisation, currently the size of a very small private school. What happens at scale? Something has to because analogue schools in a digital world don’t work, and running scared is bullshit.

Please mind the gap

After a few weeks of unavoidably engrossing myself in work (and family) I have neglected to blog. This is partly because of busy-ness but also because actually there has not been much to say. I tend to use this blog to showcase what I notice happening around government and the digital space, and for a while it was a struggle to keep up, now however, there is a gentle acceptance, adoption and movement in the direction of the future. The door is no longer being kicked at, it is open; the job now is to help everyone working in departments to mind that gap of knowledge.

What has become glaringly apparent is the widening gap between the use of social tools for big ‘P’ Politics and Politicians, and then public service. This took me by surprise, but explains why I was slightly frustrated by the projects at Rewired State that tended to focus on Politics and Politicians rather than public service data mash-ups that would help us in our lives (I was about to say daily but that might be a reach too far).

My focus is on the public service use of social media within the departments and by civil servants. This tends to cover four areas:

  • policy consultation – big lesson here is that the current digital environment requires earlier engagement (and more dialogue less monologue by the policy units)
  • marketing – obviously the marketing teams are already savvy to the fact that their online audience is collecting in community spaces (and most are supplementing traditional marketing media: TV, radio, print, with targeted online campaigns)
  • Press – press officers were probably the first to be baptised by fire and so now they are running with the crowd and monitoring what is happening in the social media space: following blogs, twitter streams and utilising flickr and YouTube (no comment); my dashboard-creating mates are very busy at the moment. I also think they should be the ones who gatekeep on behalf of the departments where they work, the tweeting/blogging areas of their departments should remain under the watchful eye of the Press Office (Although there is inevitably a cross over here with Political use of social tools)
  • corporate communication: in this I include information that the department/corporate produce for citizens/business/stakeholders/other departments (so transformational government and website rationalisation puts the onus here on Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk) however it is here that the most controversial arguments happen with departmental responsibility to the tax-payer: see the ‘free our data’/’give us RSS’ campaigns and the like (both of which I staunchly support)

That leaves a glaring gap for us working in central government: local government. Centrally this is the remit of the department for communities and local government, but in reality this is a whole different ballgame and the choice to engage using social media would lie with each council. (Not going there right now, that’s a whole other post).

It also has created an interesting conundrum for the strategy units, who are perhaps not used to working in a communication world that changes society/community in quite the same way or at the same speed as the digital revolution has created. More and more I see strategy units re-checking the future, not only because of the economic crisis, but also because of the communication landscape and technical revolution. This is a very exciting place to be.

So… the update is: this is now not something ‘new’, it fits, in a way that Second Life never did; it is an external catalyst for change within departments for comms teams, marketing and press; it is re-energising strategy units and more importantly, or beautifully, it is re-humanising the public service, assisting (IMHO) democracy – not so much for the world of Politics maybe, but in utilising the democratic idealism for making sure our public services work well for us.

It is a good place to be, and although there are battles to be fought and won, creaking changes to be made and mistakes, the doors are firmly open, we just need information gap monitors :) (See what I did there? I created a whole new job title).

Update…

So, the gaps are:

  1. Between Political use of social media and public sector/public service use
  2. Between central and local government
  3. Between the door being open and the knowledge needed to successfully use social tools
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