Sunday 31 January 2016

Real or fake names? Is internet safety clear-cut?

Internet safety is a vast topic which, being a big user of the internet and social media, I have researched and pondered about on more than one occasion.

There are many differing views on it; those who barely ever use it, in case details get cloned or nasty people find out where you live, to those who do online banking and don't think twice before posting intimate things on Facebook (often helped by a glass of wine or two).

I think we all have friends or family who fall into one of those two descriptions, but we also know plenty of others who sit somewhere in the middle - or who like me, can swing from one side of the line to the other depending on what day it is or how good you are feeling.

Some choose to never use real names, some wouldn't dream of posting a picture of their child on the internet. Six years ago, I started by doing both of these things. My blog has always been about our personal story, and originally I didn't think many people other than family and friends would read it.

When I decided a few months back that I would change the girls' names on my blog so they weren't immediately identifiable, I was following the example set by the write of my favourite blog (A Diary of a Mom). To be brutally honest though, she has more readers than I could ever dream of, so I'd say it's more of a worry for her. I totally agreed with her decision at that time, and felt it was the right thing to do.

As our eldest approaches the next stage of schooling, where she will mix with children who are becoming ever more independent, and who are big users of the internet and social media, I wanted to try and remove the chances of bullies finding information about her which they may be able to use against her. So I set about changing the girls' names to random new ones (Tilly and Sophie it was, as I let Tamsin choose and funnily enough she was drawn to the name of someone else she liked to watch on YouTube).

I've discussed all of this with Tamsin along the way - even from the beginning, she was adamant she was comfortable with my blog and everything we've put on there. As she gets older, some of the material may embarrass her more, or she may like to laugh as she looks back at it and remember the fun we had. Probably both of these things will happen, at different times. Sasha is still at the stage where she doesn't understand much about the blog, or her difficulties, but of course we will talk more when the time is right for her.

The trouble was that it never felt comfortable for me to write those names for my children. It made me stop every time, and when I read it back it just didn't feel right. So I got into the habit of replacing the names with 'oldest daughter' and 'youngest daughter'. That just felt too cumbersome to be putting in every post though, and I started to consider using just initials. Again, it didn't read right.

So I took a step back and thought long and hard about it. I'm switching back to what feels right for me, so that I don't give up writing all together. I've always wanted to be open and honest while I share our story, so it's too difficult to lie about the girls' names. I can't help wanting to share photos of my girls either; if I'm honest, it's also hard work trying to find free and relevant photos of anything else to share with every blog post!

In terms of bullies, I think they'd find a way to cause trouble with or without a blog, and we're better off educating Tamsin on how to deal with that rather than trying to avoid the issue. We already had that opportunity a couple of years ago, when we first posted a Minecraft animation about Stampy that Tamsin had made to YouTube (it's had over 70,000 views, and 325 comments), and she received a wide mix of comments before we worked out how to disable them.... It was actually a really useful learning experience though, and going forward everyone can be reminded that she was only 8 when she made that, so it was age relevant at that time. We're just about to go through similar with Sasha too, as she has independently worked out how to leave comments on YouTube videos herself... under my name though, which is slightly worrying!

I appreciate that these decisions will be different for other people, and that there will be plenty who disagree with what I'm doing, but we all have to make our own mistakes (or successes) in life and so for now this is my choice. I'm not promising I won't change my mind again in the future of course...

To finish, here is the obligatory picture to help make the post more interesting ;)

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