The 3 Ps of Online Privacy

As my year teaching 107 12-year-olds English begins, the most important question I have made a concerted effort to answer for administration, colleagues, parents, students, and myself has been:

Why use an open environment (as opposed to a closed one such as Moodle) for social networking and blogging?

There is a long answer to this question that involves both pedagogical and logistical reasons, but my shortest answer to this question is always this perceived oxymoron:

Students need to learn how to be private online.

In my various forms of diagnostic assessment of adolescent and pre-adolescent students, it never fails to terrify me when I discover how little they have learned about digital literacy, online citizenship, and critical thinking on the web. It is doubly confusing to me since, in my experience, most young people find this topic supremely scintillating at the worst of times. They have a hunger to learn how to be literate online citizens. Why are we so afraid to teach it?

In a survey of my 107 grade 7 students, I discovered:

100% had chatted online many times.

95% had at least one email account.

60% had more than two email accounts.

30% had a Twitter account.

74% are active on Facebook.

Of the 26% that weren’t on Facebook, 80% said they would be if not for home computer restrictions.

In class discussions, it becomes apparent that students are relying mostly on one another to learn about their digital footprint. Adult facilitation seems to be limited to a very negative (and hypocritical) depiction of the internet, a demonization that one can’t help but fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not unlike the kinds of myths that might develop in a grade 8 boys locker room about sex, some of the beliefs students have about social media are downright shocking.

I love Pernille Ripp’s mall analogy for online privacy (funny how malls often serve as great metaphors for many things). Call it just another case of our PLNs collective consciousness, because it was just after asking my own students the following questions that I read her post.

You’re able to walk through a mall in public and not:

  • Reveal your name to strangers
  • Have conflicts with people
  • Have temper tantrums
  • Swear out loud
  • Leave photos and video in the food court for people to take
  • Embarrass yourself by picking your nose


That really got their heads nodding with knowing grins.

So above you see our class slogan for online posting behavior. Remix, reuse, recycle. I find acronyms or ‘mantras’ very useful for paradigm reminders in the classroom.
Creative Commons License
3Ps of Online Privacy by Royan Lee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at



  1. Wow, 30% had Twitter accounts that is surprisingly high. It is quite worrying as Twitter is a lot less private than Facebook.

    I would be interested to ask how many of the students who had more than one email account have heard of temporary email addresses. They are a great way to maintain your personal privacy which are simple to use. Have a look here:

    I read an article the other day which showed evidence that children care about online privacy more than adults think.

    1. You are so right about kids caring a lot about their privacy. I think that’s partly why so many are active on Facebook rather than Twitter.

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