For younger members of a camp counseling staff, the World Wide Web has been an endless, virtual wonderland in which they have spent their entire childhoods. For them, computers are a fun, safe, and familiar technology.
They may not realize, however, the Internet is not a protected playground, where they may do whatever they please. In reality, it is just like the real world, where a careless word or action can have serious personal, financial, and professional consequences.
It is in a camp’s best interest to train staff members in ways to safely navigate the real online world. By taking one hour to teach counselors the “hows” and “whys” of keeping their own online personas clean, they will be cooperating in the ongoing task of keeping the camp’s Internet presence spotless.
Counselors should begin their training by learning the two most fundamental truths of the Internet:
• Everything is public. Once something is posted online, everybody in the world can see it. Nothing is truly “private” in cyberspace.
• Everything is permanent. It is impossible to completely remove something from the Internet. Once it’s up, it’s up forever, even if the original is deleted. One cannot “take it back.”
Just the implications of these two pieces of information should be enough to make anyone think before they post.
The following two scenarios will help staff members apply this knowledge in a more concrete way.
Scenario 1: George is an 18-year-old high-school senior applying for a counseling job at the ABC Summer Camp to supervise young children. The camp’s personnel director does a routine Google search on George and finds a three-year-old Twitter account with Tweets making jokes about his classmates, his teachers, and people of other races.
Scenario 2: Ellen is a 20-year-old counselor at Camp ABC. She “friends” three of her underage campers on Facebook. One of the camper’s parents clicks on their daughter’s new camp friend’s profile and sees multiple photos and videos of Ellen smoking, drinking, and posing suggestively, as well as Wall posts filled with expletives and poor grammar.
As part of the counselors’ training, ask them what they think happened next to George and Ellen. In the resulting discussion, be sure to point out that George and Ellen had the power to prevent their past online postings from coming back to haunt them–if only they had understood those two basic truths about the Internet.
After showing staff members why they need to exercise caution in their personal lives online, use the camp’s Internet Usage policy to begin more formal training.
Hand out printed copies of the camp’s Internet policy. It should be short, no longer than one page, and include the following three items:
• Definition of “inappropriate” usage. A general definition follows: “Any text, photo, audio, or video about the camp that could be considered controversial or questionable by the camp administration, campers, or campers’ parents.” An easier way to remember, though, is the classic “Mother Test”: before posting something, ask yourself, “Would I want my mother to see this?”
• Notification of monitoring and enforcement. Inform staff members upfront that while they are working for the camp, all of their online accounts are subject to monitoring. Tell them how they will be notified of any violations, and give them the opportunity to correct their mistakes.
• Notification of consequences. Reveal all consequences for violations, and list what type or number of violations will result in penalties (including reassignment, demotion, or outright dismissal).
Rather than dumping an exhaustive list of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” examples onto staff members, teach them instead how to see the difference on their own. Ask everyone to take out their smartphones and find an example of an online post that spectacularly fails the “Mother Test.” Lead a short discussion on why each failed posting is “inappropriate.”
By teaching the counseling staff the rules and techniques to protect themselves online, you have also succeeded in training them to be excellent representatives of the camp on the Internet.
Keisuke Hoashi is the Director of Communications for the New York Summer Music Festival in Oneonta, New York. He can be reached via email at KHoashi@nysmf.org.