The Bad Side Of SN

(Educational) social networks are already in use in schools. We’ve talked about some of them previously. But what about the risky side? There are concerns about any social networks, especially with younger people. I will be using Nancy Willard’s article ‘Schools and Online Social Networking’ as a basis for this post.

Social networks have a certain resonance with younger audiences. ‘Educators working with middle and high school students likely are aware of the explosive interest and involvement of youth in such online sites’ (Willard).

Welcome to the world of online social networking. One of the biggest concerns with younger people, is the fact that these sites allows people to make connections with other members as so-called ‘friends.’ Whether they are friends or not is a worry to teachers and parents alike.

We should be careful that the creators of such sites never had a bad intention from the start. ‘Problems are associated with these social networking sites, but the sites themselves generally are not the problem. Review the sites and look at the User Agreements or “Terms.” These sites do seek to prohibit harmful activities. But with hundreds of thousands — or millions — of registered members, the sites cannot be expected to engage in effective “babysitting”‘ (Willard). Does anyone ever read the small print? No? Me neither.

There are benefits for social networking within educational purposes. Because there are more resonance with younger people, they are more easily able to self-express themselves and make genuine friends. ‘Youth “play time” in such environments can build skills that will be a foundation for career success in the 21st century’ (Willard).

The Bad

Willard argues that the legitimate concerns about youth involvement with these sites can be broken down into three basic factors: 1) sites are attracting many teens, some of whom are not making good choices; 2) Many parents are not paying attention to what their children are posting on the sites; 3) Sexual predators are attracted to places where teens are not making good choices and adults are not paying attention.

She lists several unsafe/irresponsible activities that youths do:

  • Unsafe disclosure of personal information — providing potentially dangerous or damaging personal information. Many teens appear to have no understanding that what they post in those communities is public, potentially permanent, and accessible by anyone in the world.
  • Addiction — spending an excessive amount of time online, resulting in lack of healthy engagement in major areas of life.
  • Risky sexual behavior — becoming seduced by a sexual predator or child pornographer, posting sexually suggestive material or self-producing child pornography, or making connections with other teens for sexual “hook-ups.”
  • Cyberbullying — being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material online or through a cell phone, or by engaging in other cruel actions.
  • Dangerous communities — at-risk youth making connections with other at-risk youth or adults to discuss and share information, which can result in a shared belief in the appropriateness of potentially very harmful activities

At this age, younger people are not ‘expected’ to know between right or wrong. Clearly, the above is wrong but  younger people generally don’t care, or more worryingly, don’t realise this is wrong. Put your mindset within a young context; would you be responsible when your parents aren’t looking?

Unfortunately, this is a problem that will be extremely difficult to solve. Because social networks allows for people to communicate, it will be hard pressed to regulate the tons of data traffic. In short, the risks/issues above will be prevalent. But there are ways in which schools/parents can reduce the risks.

The #1 Issue For Schools

‘When the Internet first came into schools, the primary concern was youth access to pornography. Filtering software was promoted as the tool to effectively deal with that concern. Current concerns deal more with what students are posting, as well as how and with whom they are communicating. Do a search on the terms “bypass Internet filter” and you will see how easy it is for youth to find information on ways to get around the school filter’ (Willard).

‘Should schools be concerned about off-campus Internet activities? Yes. Involvement in those communities might negatively impact student well being and the quality of the school environment. Students might post material on the sites that harms other students, provides clues or direct threats about suicidal or violent intentions, or provides indications of hate group or gang involvement, or drug sales and use’ (Willard).

What Can Be Done

‘A comprehensive approach to addressing student Internet access is necessary:

  1. A clear policy with a strong focus on educationally valuable use of the Internet — no “Internet recess.” The policy must be supported by curriculum and professional development, and a clear expectation for teachers that all student use of the Internet should be for high quality, well-planned instructional activities.
  2. Student education about online safety and responsible use.
  3. Effective technical monitoring.
  4. Appropriate consequences. Schools and districts should consider a full review of Internet use management policies and practices. A needs assessment and evaluation of Internet use would provide helpful insight. Safe school personnel must be involved in that process’ (Willard).

Another solution should be that all school personal – from the Head Teacher to Officers – must be made aware of these sites and the following concerns. It is no good letting the class teacher know about it if it doesn’t go straight to the top. These issues affect the entire school.

This is also important when it comes to the parents. Most internet use – sometimes unrestricted – occurs at home. ‘Schools can help by providing information and guidance to parents and encouraging parental involvement in their children’s online activities’ (Willard).

Willard argues that a ‘block/filter’ approach on internet access or within social networks is only a short-fix option. The more you deny someone access, the more determined they are to find a way around.

It seems that the long-term solution appears to be within the same way teachers are drilling maths and science into kids: teaching. If people learn what’s dangerous, then perhaps this will have an impact for them to be more careful. It seems the same approach is needed. ‘Proactive strategies to help students gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make safe and responsible choices, and continued adult involvement are necessary’ (Willard).

To read Nancy Willard’s article ‘Schools and Online Social Networking‘:

http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues/issues423.shtml

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