A new graphic novel joins OPC resources, giving teachers a jump on privacy lessons
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has developed a new graphic novel aimed at children aged 8-10 to add to its suite of tools to help teachers support children in learning how to navigate privacy issues in the online world.
The graphic novel, Social Smarts: Nothing Personal!, features Olive, a girl who has just inherited her older brother’s smartphone. With the help of the phone – which “talks” to her, acting as her guide through cyberspace – Olive learns a number of important lessons. For example: when she posts an innocent photo with a cute caption she finds out that once she puts information online she can’t control how others see it or use it. She learns about cookies, how she can be tracked through her online activity, and the reasons why she shouldn’t always give her personal information to anyone who asks for it.
Going online exposes kids to an environment that is increasingly hungry for personal information. In the marketplace, companies create detailed profiles of users to sell on to advertisers, and to influence behaviour. In the social sphere, information can be used to bully, to harm reputations, or for other nefarious purposes such as identity theft.
“Especially since the pandemic, nearly everything we do has some sort of online component. The risks involved, from cyberbullying to hacking and email scams, are difficult for many adults to navigate,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien.
In this environment, teaching kids to protect their personal information is as important as the lesson to look both ways before crossing a busy street.
“For children to be able to enjoy all the benefits of being online, they must learn to do so safely, while protecting their privacy. That’s why digital literacy education must be a priority.”
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada worked with MediaSmarts to create a companion discussion guide for teachers that reinforces the learning goals for the novel, provides ideas for classroom activities, and offers up tips to remember.
Social Smarts: Nothing Personal! is the OPC’s second graphic novel. The first, Social Smarts: Privacy, the Internet and You, was designed for slightly older students. It follows teenage siblings who are attending a new school, only to discover students there already seem to know all about them. This novel has become the OPC’s most popular publication, requested by schools across the country. It has garnered positive feedback from teachers, who find the material engaging and say the format resonates with their students. While the content is aimed at teenagers, teachers of English as a second language also found it helpful to use with the older students in their classes. A youth group in Italy even requested permission to translate it. The discussion guide to use with this novel brings home the concept of the privacy risks surrounding social networking, mobile devices, texting and online gaming.
Both novels contain black and white illustrations that are easily reproduced, and text-only versions are also available. The OPC can send classroom-sized packages of the graphic novel/discussion guide without cost by request in both English and French.
These graphic novels are just some of the tools the OPC makes available to students and educators to further the privacy-protection facet of digital literacy. For teachers, there is a full catalogue of tools available online, including:
- Lesson plans about online privacy, for Grades 6-12
- Privacy presentation packages, including slides and speaking notes, for Grades 4-12
- A Printable poster for Grades 4-6
- Activity sheets, including a Snakes and Ladders game
- Videos focusing on online reputation, the risks of posting personal information online, as well as tips for online gaming and for staying safe on social media
- Discussion topics to get students of all ages thinking about the information they share online
- A quiz to test online privacy knowledge
- Our Tips for Parents page also contains helpful materials, including a “House Rules” tool
Educators, legislators and regulators around the world have been stressing the importance of digital literacy for some time, and for good reason.
A 2019 survey by the Canadian Pediatric Society suggested 20 per cent of teenagers spent at least five hours a day on social media alone.
The ways that tech giants target juvenile users has become an international concern, and have led to many recent advances regarding youth and privacy.
In 2021, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada co-sponsored a resolution on children’s digital rights at the Global Privacy Assembly, a global forum for data protection and privacy authorities. The resolution aims to strengthen the protection of children’s rights in the digital environment. It recognizes children are particularly vulnerable as they may be less aware of risks online, but are a key target audience for many organizations keen to collect their personal information.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has also published its influential Recommendation on Children in the Digital Environment.
As well, in September 2021, the United Kingdom’s Age Appropriate Design Code came into effect. Billed as a “data protection code of practice,” it imposes standards on internet companies to make their products safer for children.
“Just like adults, kids are increasingly finding that their social, educational and other recreational pursuits are taking place online,” says Commissioner Therrien. “That makes our goal of empowering youth while protecting their privacy rights a priority. Teachers play a critical role in reaching that goal.”