Back-to-School Warning: Cyberbullying & Surveillance
Me and Banksy, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
This book was instructive on a number of levels regarding digital privacy and would act as a great back-to-school reminder of several things all students need to keep in mind.
1. You have no expectation of privacy at school. Schools are allowed, by law, to observe you using security cameras. You may not like it, you may even campaign against it, as the MC does in this book, but in the US anyway, they're legal so long as they're not in places where you can expect privacy -- basically the bathrooms, sports locker changing rooms and showers, etc.
2. I realize it's no longer stigmatizing for young women to take their shirts off in public and even show their bras. My daughter's soccer team mates did it all the time in public parks with their sports bras. Logically, it's not all that different from wearing a bikini to the beach, where I grew up. But you do need to be aware that when you're in a public place, in this case a school, you may be recorded and there's always a chance that recording can be used / edited negatively against you. Anything that's recorded can be changed and manipulated to show just about anything the editor desires -- even and especially if it isn't a truthful representation of the original recording. Don't roll your eyes; it happens.
3. Digital bullying, bullying over social media, cyberbullying -- whatever you care to call it -- call it OUT. Tell someone, specifically a teacher or a school administrator or a parent, as soon as you see the offensive post. Take a screen shot for evidence, as it may not stay up for long, but it only takes a few seconds to do lasting damage. This is an Australian infographic, but I felt it did the best job at communicating what to do, if you see and need to report cyberbullying material.
Dominica and her best friends, Holden and Saanvi, are well-off students at The Mitch, an exclusive private middle school that recently installed security cameras. Dominica's grandmother is an art gallery owner who funnels radical artist books to her granddaughter, including one mentioning the notorious Banksy (remember that multi-million dollar art auction a few years ago where the frame ate the painting, or half the painting, before it was stopped or some such?) and some anti-surveillance society artwork s/he'd done (s/he because no one knows Banksy's identity).
Early in the book, Dominica gets to school and discovers she's wearing her shirt inside out. In the library, in what she thinks is a secluded spot, she changes it to right-side-out. She then forgets about it, at least, for a short while.
There's also the requisite group of boys who bully the girls. They somehow hack the school's CCTV system, and post on a school site (like a Moodle or Google Classroom, for example) a video of a girl, Ana, picking her nose, really diving in there. Next it's a video of a boy with his shirt tail showing through his open fly.
Then someone posts a video of Dominica, set to sexy, alluring music, taking her shirt off in the library and showing her bra in the process. The video's edited to look far more erotic than the utilitarian changing it actually was.
And that's when Dominica scrawls the first squirrel. She's an artist, a young artist, and what starts with obscuring some nasty comments about a girl written in Sharpie on the bathroom stall, where she's ensconced because she's afraid of the taunting she'll get if she comes out, becomes a full-fledged squirrel (?! right?!) graffiti-in-the-halls effort to call out the school cameras. Because that's the only camera that could have caught her taking her shirt off.
Dominica and her friends are on the hunt to figure out who hacked the school's system and how, and more importantly, why. The answer's more complex than it would seem on the surface -- turns out the boys have next-to-nothing to do with it, or they do, but in a roundabout way, and the "real" culprit is one of the last people (but first involved) you'd ever think of.
Top it off with a discovery that the principal's been spying on everyone, including taking video of students at home, using the cameras in their school-issued laptops, and it's a brew of middle school emotions amidst a complex but artistic campaign to remove the cameras and get justice.
This is a great read for jump-starting conversations about students' expectations of privacy, cyber / Internet security and how to report social media / cyberbullying at your specific school.
Teacher's Note: The publisher offers a free discussion guide, correlated to 6th grade English Language Arts standards, in case you want to use this in class.
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