Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are very popular with young people, even those who are of primary age.
These types of sites allow young people to be incredibly creative online, keep in touch with their friends and family, as well as share photos and videos. However, it’s important to familiarise yourself with social networking services. Most sites stipulate a minimum user age of 13, although some interactive sites are designed specifically for younger children. By understanding these sites you can help to support your pupils in choosing an appropriate site and using it in a safe and constructive way.
Young people need to protect their online reputation
Young people use social networking sites in a whole host of ways, to communicate with their friends, to share photos and to find out new information. You need to remind young people however that they need to be wary of what they’re posting online. Children can sometimes believe that social networking sites are a private space for them and it can be difficult for them to realise that actually what they’re posting online is public and can be spread very quickly and to a large audience. The blur between public and private expression can potentially put a child at risk in two main ways:
Content: content which is uploaded online can be copied, altered and reposted by anyone and it is very difficult to ‘take back’ what may be later regretted. Children who create or post inappropriate, offensive or even illegal content in their own or others’ web pages could get them into trouble with their school, friends and even the police, depending on the nature of the material.
Contact: young people need to be aware of how much personal information they upload onto these sites. If a user of a social networking site doesn’t protect their information by enabling the correct privacy settings, they could be exposing their information to adults with a sexual interest in children. Posting or chatting about personal details might enable someone to identify and contact children online or in person. There is also the more likely risk of cyberbullying with young people intentionally harming another person online.
Advice for young people
- Privacy settings: encourage your pupils to use the privacy tools available on the social networking site to protect their personal information. Other tools available often include the ability to block other users completely from seeing your content or making any contact with you.
- Online friendship: remind your pupils to only add people they know in the offline world to their contact lists on social networking sites.
- Think before you post: encourage your pupils to think before they make a post. Discuss with them what is and isn’t OK to say in a post or tweet, and remind them that messages online can be misconstrued and misunderstood. What starts out as a joke can escalate quickly and can’t be taken back.
- Consider the photos you upload: remind pupils to consider the impact that photos may have online, the attention that may be drawn to the photo, and who can see the photo. They should always ensure that they ask permission from others before posting pictures of them online.
- Know how to report: educate your pupils about how to report abusive comments or illegal activity on social networking sites. Popular social networking sites allow you to report a comment or user who is potentially breaking their terms and conditions, by clicking on a report button or sending the site an email. If pupils have concerns about cyberbullying then they should speak to a trusted adult. If they have concerns about online grooming, then they should report it to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) and also tell a trusted adult.
Advice for you as a professional
It is also important for teachers and educators to protect their professional reputation and the reputation of their schools/establishments when using social media. For more information on how best to use these sites as an educator, please read our Professional reputation guide.