Netsafe against 'Merivale Gossip Girl' school project

Year 10 students shared personal information through a photo messaging service, unaware the account was operated and ...
STACY SQUIRES/STUFF

Year 10 students shared personal information through a photo messaging service, unaware the account was operated and controlled by teachers.

It was unwise for a school to set up false social media accounts to teach students about cyber safety, an online safety organisation says.

Year 12 students at Christchurch's St Margaret's College set up several social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, assisted by teachers, as part of a health project about cyber safety and cyber citizenship.

The project backfired after year 10 students were individually invited to Snapchat and Instagram accounts called 'Merivale Gossip Girl'. The year 10 students shared personal information via the photo messaging services, unaware the accounts were operated and controlled by teachers.

St Margaret's College executive principal Gillian Simpson says parents should make sure their children know about the ...
LIGHTWORKX PHOTOGRAPHY

St Margaret's College executive principal Gillian Simpson says parents should make sure their children know about the dangers of posting personal information online.

Netsafe director of technology Sean Lyons said the online safety organisation did not condone setting up false profiles.

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"It's something we strongly advise people not to do. If you're going to be online on a place that is supposed to be you then be yourself.

"It sends the wrong message; we are about making sure people can live safely online."

The Instagram account involved in the project asked for "Merivale's latest gossip".

"Dm me the good stuff. Don't be shy, I won't tell."

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'Merivale Gossip Girl' later revealed the account was part of a "health awareness project".

"Never follow a site or a person you don't personally know. This type of site can only harm your mental and emotional well-being. Please please listen to us!!!"(sic).

It is understood the students felt tricked when they realised the social media accounts were part of a school project. ​

A police spokeswoman said police were made aware of the situation on Friday.

"If anyone has concerns regarding inappropriate or criminal behaviour they are advised to contact police."

Neither the Privacy Commissioner nor Children's Commissioner had received any complaints.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said sharing personal information online had risks.

"The fact that we have so much access at school and at homes means that any cyberbullying can be pervasive, and the ability for bullies to be anonymous and spread what's said quickly and to a large audience can make it more harmful."

In an email to parents on Monday, Simpson said the school would speak to students and parents about "how to move forward".

"I want to take this opportunity to again reassure you all that we are taking the concerns of both students and parents very seriously. As always, we have your daughters' wellbeing as our main priority and purpose."

Simpson asked parents to work with the college to ensure their daughters' safety.

"Make sure your daughter knows about the dangers of posting personal information online and that she feels able to talk to you about any issues."

HOW TO KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE ONLINE

- Install software on your computer that either blocks or restricts content so your children cannot access certain sites, or monitors activity so you can review online behaviour.

- Know who your children are making contact with online. If they are not your children's actual friends then question their cyber relationship.

- Know what social networking sites your child is on and what information they are posting.

- Check your children understand the dangers of posting personal information on social networking sites.

- Do not allow your children to use the internet in private areas of your home.

- If you or your child becomes suspicious about a person online, stop contact immediately. If necessary, delete the app.

Further advice is available on the police website and at Netsafe.

 - Stuff

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