Like many educators and parents, I am concerned about the situations and communications that occur on social media sites amongst young students. Facebook is still the most popular social media site for students even though there has been an exponential growth of other social media sites online.
After having taught social media safety lessons to grade 6, 7 and 8 students, I was able to reflect on some of the things I heard in relation to young student’s behaviour online. I believe that Facebook (in particular) should create a personalized experience for young users. I have outlined the dangers of Facebook and my solutions below:
1. Facebook’s policy is that you must be 13 years or older to sign up; however, there is no way to monitor this.
Facebook should create a parent-child account for all members under the age of 16. This type of account would allow a child to sign up but only with their parent / guardian as a co-member of their profile. Parents should be required to input some form of I.D. to confirm their age as well as their relationship to the child. If this new account were widely publicized parents might be more inclined to talk to their children about their profiles and to add themselves as co-members of their child’s profile. I know this is a tall order but for the safety of our young children it would be prudent for parents to have a more active role in their child’s interactions on Facebook.
2. Facebook’s reporting process of inappropriate / abusive photos or posts or underage accounts is automated and lacks human critical thought.
When reporting an underage account, inappropriate photo or post, Facebook’s settings make you jump through hoops. The reporting process is confusing and not easy to navigate. In my opinion, reporting these issues should be the forefront of creating a safe social network. My suggestion is to make the reporting process one that involves a human conversation (digital or phone) between members of the Facebook team and the person reporting the problem. In a situation where I was reporting an underage account with inappropriate content, Facebook sent me an automated message claiming that the content was not deemed inappropriate. There was no opportunity for me to let Facebook know that the creator of the account was an underage student at my school using a fake name and posting inappropriate content. Unfortunately I could not identify the student; however, this account spurred us to have conversations with our students about their actions on Facebook. If Facebook created a team that communicates with the individual reporting an issue then users could better explain the problem and its implications within our school community. In addition, young users could report issues of bullying or abuse by talking with a Facebook member. This could result in greater awareness for all individuals as well as prevent numerous cases of dangerous situations from occurring online. I am asking Facebook to take greater responsibility for their network. Facebook should be held to the highest standard in their social responsibility to their users.
3. Facebook does not have leaders in the community to help set examples or model behaviour for younger members.
In speaking about these issues with a critical friend in technology education, we hit upon the ideas that it would be beneficial if Facebook created “peer-leader” accounts. These individuals would need to apply and be interviewed to become a Facebook peer-leader. These individuals could be older students, teachers, parents, social workers, community workers etc. The purpose of these individuals would be to model safe social media use, help mediate situations of bullying, help younger members make positive decisions about their content, lead discussions on netiquette and update people on new privacy settings.
At the risk of sounding like Big Brother I believe these precautions are better to take than none at all. It seems to me that no one is really sure who should be taking responsibility. I believe that the responsibility to “educate” and guide discussions belongs to all parties: Facebook, parents, teachers and other individuals who work with children. Together, we may be able to bring greater awareness and engage our young children / students in pertinent discussions regarding their use of social media.by