An interview with immunizeNet's founder, Michel Colaci - 12/01/2016:

how did the idea come about? 

"At an information evening at our local school a few years ago, fellow parents and the school's leadership expressed concerns about their children's use of social media and mobile devices. Thanks to my experience in technology, I knew I would be able to advise the audience on the benefits, opportunities and risks of technology as well as how to implement some simple but effective steps to help protect their children's safety and privacy. 

So, I surveyed the parents on what their concerns were, on their awareness level of risks and their knowledge on digital safety. It was very clear that albeit parents were aware of the risks, they were not well equipped to manage them. So, I prepared a workshop to help them navigate their way through apps and sites their kids were using and I showed them how to put in place some simple but effective safety and privacy measures.  The feedback was great."

How did that develop into immunizeNet?

"The school’s leadership and Parent Association were hugely supportive in the development of highly practical and engaging workshops for parents as well as our online resource centre with its “step by step” tutorials and info videos on popular apps. Interest from other school communities quickly followed and I received an invitation to speak at the annual NAPD conference in Cork in December 2014. The feedback from that was really good and requests for more workshops started to come in." 

How did the kids workshops come about?

"I realised over time that whilst parental education and safety measures were a great step forward, the greatest value was going to be in educating children themselves and showing them ways to protect their privacy & online reputation on the apps that they use, what to do if they are being cyber bullied as well as introducing them to positive use of technology. So, we trialed some pupil workshops in primary and secondary schools. The results have been tangible changes in behaviour. 

In what way?

Pupils came back the next day and were able to explain to the principal or teacher what they had learnt and what they had changed in their safety settings and behaviour. We also trialed peer education as part of the workshops, where we worked with a 5th year student counsel group who talked to their younger friends about what they would do different if they were in their shoes starting out on social media. 

What did you learn from that?

What struck me in particular, was that the children we worked with largely weren't purposely engaging in risky stuff online (with some exceptions), but were either naive about what goes on, take too much of what's online at face value, aren't familiar with some of the safety and privacy settings available to them or in a lot of cases, privacy and safety just wasn't something they were thinking about. So, we educate them on all these aspects in our workshops and make it easy for them to implement the right proactive privacy and safety measures

How is immunizeNet unique?

The uniqueness lies in 3 main aspects:

1. We offer both the educational aspect (through our workshops) and the "how to" tutorials (through our vast online resource library).  

2. We are results focused, not talk focused. We could "talk" for hours about digital safety, but we rather deliver content that parents, children and educators are able to take action with and make tangible and immediate changes that deliver results in the form of better online safety and privacy as well as smarter digital behaviour.

3. We are very current and in-tune with what kids do online and are able to engage them and relate to them in our workshops. We all have technology backgrounds and are all parents so we understand both aspects very well. We have ongoing collaboration with schools and pupils on trends and requirements. 

What's next?

Today, we have distributed a simple and brief, free "guide to social media safety" to all primary and secondary schools in Ireland and we are launching our workshops and online resource centre to schools and parents all over Ireland.