Mrs McLellan's assembly on E-Safety
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An extract from Mrs McLellan's assembly on Monday 3 February. Mrs McLellan is St Dunstan's Deputy Head Pastoral.

This February, schools around the globe will be coming together to celebrate Safer Internet Day. In the UK, the focus this year is on promoting the freedom to express your identity online with the expectation of being welcomed, included and treated fairly, no matter what that identity is. 

The trouble is we can all have different identities – there is no single group or tribe that you necessarily belong to and identify with. You may have an identity based on a characteristic such as your sex, gender, ethnicity or age. You may have several identities affiliated with interests such as supporting a football team, playing a particular computer game or preferring a genre of music. Your friendship group is an important part of your identity, your cultural heritage, even which options you study or Forder clubs you participate in at school. So, which of these is your ‘real’ identity? Face to face it is easier to see each person as a blend of interests and ideas but online, it is easy to become a one-dimensional persona.

In fact some famous people such as Katie Hopkins or Donald Trump have deliberately cultivated a one-dimensional online image – are they being authentic in their entrenched opinions or is this a deliberate ruse to mislead us? The infamous example of the American woman who posted a racist tweet before boarding a plane, became the worldwide No.1 trend on Twitter, lost her job and many friends, all while in the air – without phone signal I should add – is a potent symbol of how easy it is to end up with a one-dimensional identity online.

Perhaps people were right to vilify her – what she posted was very nasty after all. And yet by piling in the vicious attacks, all sense that this person was a human being who had made a big mistake but still had family, parents, something to give to the world, was entirely lost.

In the UK at least, we do not condone corporal punishment or ritual humiliation for crimes. But online where we can hide behind an avatar, sometimes it seems like anything goes and trolls can persecute at will. Are we in fact to blame for this development in the story of the internet? The generation of many of your teachers did not grow up with a parallel online existence. 

In the 80s (when everything was perfect if you believe the Facebook memes – trust me it wasn’t), we waited patiently by landline phones for a call from friends or even trekked to the nearest phone box if we needed to make a call without being overheard by parents. Even once we started getting early phones which charged you 10p to send a text message and whose main excitement was playing snake, we unintentionally exposed ourselves to all sorts of dangers by chatting in chatrooms to strangers and giving out our number to all and sundry.

We advise you because we made all the mistakes when the technology was launched. And it would appear continue to err by allowing the internet to become sanctuary for intolerance and oneupmanship. However you were born with the internet. You might have a much deeper understanding than many of the adults around you, can see the problems we are facing (how many of you have parents who never put down their phones) and therefore are much better placed to make the internet a better place as you take on board the advice but also use your own instincts to allow everyone a place to be themselves on the internet, to explore its benefits and its ability to connect people all around the world- whether family or those linked by a common interest without being attacked by others.  

You will be the ones to understand that you can have true authenticity online whilst still protecting yourself and thus allow your many identities to flourish and develop.

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