Monday, 8 March 2010

A tragic loss, a terrible warning

image courtesy of the BBC

My heart sank as I heard the story on the radio about the murder of teenager Ashleigh Hall by the convicted rapist Peter Chapman.

He had posed as a teenage boy, using a false identity, on Facebook, and lured the unsuspecting 17 year old into his web of lies.

When they met eventually he claimed to be the father of the boy she had been talking to online.

An innocent girl paid for her life because she was trusting.

You can read the full story on the BBC here.

It's terrifying that young people continue to treat their digital footprints and social networks like idle playgrounds, in which nothing bad can happen and no wrong can be done.

A year ago I did a series of school assemblies. With permission from the senior management I took mobile numbers of sixth formers for one assembly, and then presented them as an animation when they entered the auditorium. As students realised what they were looking at one could see the indignation spread. And yet these numbers had been posted freely on Facebook.

With the senior school boys I created a fake character, Sandra, and added a suitably glamorous photo I found online. It was shocking how quickly these lads would hand over details like their full names, and place of birth, at the drop of a hat. Needless to say, there were red faces and shuffling of feet as I revealed Sandra's true identity.

It's a year old now, so some of the privacy details about Facebook have changed (and not necessarily, in my opinion, for the better. When Jerry Zuckerberg claims there's no such thing as privacy any more, we should all be scared), and the usage numbers will have changed, but I think it's worth re-publishing here. If you want to download a copy then you can do so here.

At some point the voices of the adults warning the young and encouraging them to act responsibly will have to be heard. Let's hope it's not too late. One death is one too many.