Social media has been one of the most transformative channels of communication in the last few decades. Its powerful reach and ease of use make it a widely popular medium to share information, network, educate, inform and socialise. It is perhaps the only medium that does not have one specific target audience; everyone from school children to grand parents have found a voice via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. When it comes to children and adolescents, we cannot ignore the fact that they are on social media whether parents and teachers approve or not.
We recently came across an interesting analogy about playgrounds and social media – the author suggested that we let our children go to the playground knowing that they may encounter bullies there, or that they could get hurt. We let them learn how to climb and pick them up when they fall or hurt themselves, and we give them advice about how to handle bullies. Social media is the playground of this generation. Children still need help and guidance to navigate their way through.
The question now is whose responsibility is it to help and guide children in using social media safely? The debate continues, as some educators feel that schools are responsible for providing a holistic education, and social media etiquette is a part of that education. On the other hand, others feel that teachers are already burdened with following the regular school curriculum and helping students maintain decent grades.
Despite the contradictory opinions, more and more schools are now opting to include social media etiquette in their curriculum in one form or another.
When educating children on how to use social media safely, consider the following points:
Most online platforms require users to fill out tons of personal information, ranging from birthdays to phone numbers. A lot of the details requested are optional and don’t have to be filled out. Children need to be cautioned about sharing this information as it can be easily become publicly available and accounts are at the risk of being hacked.
What happens on social media stays on Google forever
Often, young people share information online without considering the consequences, either as a joke or in response to something upsetting. In either case, the content might be inappropriate or unpleasant and what they fail to realise is that once the content is out there, it is available for download and can be saved or shared by others.
Also, whatever is posted on social media has a way of sneaking up on us on search engines, months or years after it has been posted. Caution children to think twice and take a minute to consider the long term implications of what they are posting and whether it is really information they want out there forever.
Be wary of strangers
Adults have been imparting this advice to children since time immemorial and it might seem like common sense at this point. However, in the digital world, strangers have the unique opportunity to pretend to be someone else and trick kids into trusting them. In light of this unfortunate misuse of the Internet, children need to be warned not to share personal information with anyone online, as a hacker might pose as a friend or a relative.
Check-ins and location based services
Social media has made it really easy for everyone to constantly update their location and share who they are with, what they are doing, and even how they are feeling about it!
This can be extremely dangerous when it comes to children, because it exposes location in real time and makes it very simple for predators to track movements and determine when someone is alone or not at home. While children might think it is fun to share their location with friends and family, to let them know about the latest movie they have watched or trip they are on, they need to be warned about the potential dangers involved.
One of the social media features most loved by children and adults alike, is photo-sharing. In fact, with platforms like Instagram and snapchat, which are entirely dedicated to pictures and videos, the possibilities for photo sharing are endless.
Unfortunately, the dangers involved are many – children may post all kinds of photos without fully realising that anyone can access them once they are shared online. Although Instagram requires a user’s permission to follow an account, predators can assume anyone’s identity to trick children and misuse their pictures. Another issue is photo tampering, where photo editing tools are used to manipulate images posted online, often for no other reason but to embarrass or humiliate someone.
Social Media Safety Checklist
Ask your students to run through these questions before posting or sharing information on social media:
- Will the information I share put someone in danger?
- Do people really need to know where I am and who I am with?
- Does this post reveal too much private information?
- Would I want someone to know this about me in a few years from now?
- Can this content be misused by someone to harm me?
Social media is a great method of communication, but it is one that needs to be used with caution and responsibility. Has your school implemented social media etiquette classes? Have you considered the benefits of e-Safety programs and tools to help safeguard your students? Connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter to know more about how you can keep your students safe online and how to encourage social media safety.