Friday, November 02, 2007

Tough Questions - Social Networking

I just got asked 4 tough questions from one of the schools' newspaper.

1.Is a program like Facebook safe for kids? Why?

2.What measures are taken to protect kids and prevent online predators?

3.Are online predators as big a threat as they are made out to be?

4.Do you feel that it is fair for school administrators to look at students' facebooks sites and punish them in school if they have inappropriate pictures or comments?

Here were my responses:

1.Is a program like Facebook safe for kids? Why? Like anything else there is a level of safety that is based on how it is used. It is easy to forget in virtual worlds that the same social rules apply. We have all learned from an early age not to trust strangers, this advice holds true in our virtual environments as well. Facebook, and other social network sites, do have policies in place to help maintain safe atmospheres but there are always people that are on the fringes of society that will look for ways to take advantage of people. It is up to the companies that provide social networks to create safe environments and for the people within them to be safe within them. Problems can occur when an adult with more advanced social and communication skills use these environments to prey on people that are not as experienced in social situations.

2.What measures are taken to protect kids and prevent online predators? There are several governmental agencies, private interest groups, and educational organizations that have put together information on how to be safe online. Some of the most widely known are:

http://www.netsmartz.org/

www.safekids.com/

http://ikeepsafe.org/

http://www.projectsafechildhood.gov/

www.isafe.org/

www.wiredsafety.org/

http://onguardonline.gov/


The 2 most popular social networks have safety information as well:

http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.viewpage&placement=safetytips

http://www.facebook.com/about.php


3.Are online predators as big a threat as they are made out to be? Yes, if they do manage to lure someone into their grasp there is a very real danger there. However, research is showing that this doesn’t happen that often. There was a recent report released by PEW (http://www.pewinternet.org) that shows that most teens are conscious of internet dangers and many do not post sensitive information, or put content on their web that is misleading to deliberately lead people away from truthful personal information. Yet 11% of teens still make profiles using their full names. PEW also reports the following:

Fully 32% of online teens have been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends, and 7% of online teens say they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of contact by an online stranger. Several behaviors are associated with high levels of online stranger contact, including social networking profile ownership, posting photos online and using social networking sites to flirt. Although several factors are linked with increased levels of stranger contact in general, gender is the only variable with a consistent association with contact that is scary or uncomfortable--girls are much more likely to report scary or uncomfortable contact than boys.

Teens need to take measures to protect themselves from people who would seek to do them harm. They can do this by following a couple of quick tips:

· Don’t post personal information about yourself to the mass public on the web – things like your name, phone number, or calendar

· Be wary of complete strangers that contact you – just like you would be if you were talking in person

· Don’t agree to meet people in person that you meet in a virtual environment

· Share your online experiences with your parents – it helps them to understand how things have changed – and allows you to get another perspective on the people you meet

· Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want to wear on a t-shirt and walk around school in. The internet is virtual, but what you do there can follow you around forever.



4.Do you feel that it is fair for school administrators to look at students' facebooks sites and punish them in school if they have inappropriate pictures or comments?


Fair or unfair really doesn’t play into this. Administrators, parents, and the public can (and do) see what you post on-line. Legally, administrators have a responsibility to maintain a safe atmosphere. If things are happening on-line that challenge the safety of students they must be investigated. Also, it is within the rights of the school to prevent substantial disruption in the educational process. Activities that happen outside of school, live or virtually, can cause interference inside of the school. If an administrator perceives that something outside of the school walls will stop the school from serving its purpose they have the right and responsibility to investigate the issue (including looking at websites) and outline a course of discipline.


Those were my thoughts anyway...

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