SCHOOL BEAT

Social Mis-media

by MILES POSTEMA
Rockford School Board Trustee

In the early days of the Internet, with slow speeds and dial-up Internet connections, I thought the Internet might go the way of the CB radio—a passing fad but not a lasting part of our lives. I admit that I am not always right in my predictions. Soon there will be nearly a billion users on Facebook alone.

Several recent events brought home to me the proliferation of social media in all of its forms. A recent expulsion hearing included text messages from one student to another student. After a student died from an illness on one of my university attorney colleague’s campuses, some students on the same floor posted messages of sympathy on the student’s Facebook page even before the student’s family could be informed through normal, official means. The students did not intend to be disrespectful and likely did not think about the possibility that the family had not yet been notified. They simply wanted to express their condolences using the tool they use most often. Many have Facebook up on their screens nearly all day.

Recently, on a visit to my own campus, my middle school daughter noticed that a substantial number of the students in our library were on Facebook. We counted and about a third of the students had Facebook up. I confess it wasn’t any kind of scientific study on our part, but it is clear to me that middle school, high school and college students spend a significant amount of time on or with social media.

Parents today did not grow up with social media and we have little real life experiences to share about it with our kids.

As a university lawyer and a school board member, almost every conference or workshop I attend has a session on the perils of social media from the perspective of the school or the students. At a recent conference the speaker asked how many attendees had Facebook accounts. In an audience of mostly 40- to 60-year-old lawyers, all but a few hands went up.

Students believe that social media is largely private when nothing could be farther from the truth. The speed and spontaneity of social media coupled with the perceived anonymity of the Internet behind a keyboard can be a recipe for poor judgment. Some bullying and harassment has now left the playground and the availability of social media enables students, for good or bad, to stay connected away from the school. It’s difficult to monitor and supervise this kind of conduct.

It pays to be vigilant about your child’s use of social media. We have had to “de-friend” some of my daughter’s friends when it became clear that their wall posts bordered on the inappropriate.

The parents of the student at the expulsion hearing explained that he had never had a conversation with their student about the appropriate use of their phone for texting. Texting lacks the nonverbal aspects of communication and much can be lost without that piece.

Here are some general rules that you can share with your kids about social media:

•            Posts are not personal. Students often think their Facebook pages are private diaries. If information is posted on the Internet, privacy is largely gone.

•            Your post or texts might subject you to student discipline. If your posts or texts cause a disruption at school, that might lead to a suspension or expulsion. If you harass or bully another student online or via text outside of school, you may still be disciplined if it interferes with the school.

•            Review your privacy settings. Facebook changes the rules of the game often. Some think they have set their account privacy settings appropriately but this is easier said than done. It pays to revisit your privacy settings frequently.

•            Others are reading your posts. More and more, teachers, professors and prospective employers may be reading your posts. If you are posting something negative about someone, that person could be reading your post. With an unrestricted Facebook account, your information could come up with a simple search.

•            What you post is likely permanent. Even though you may have set your privacy settings, it’s likely that the information you have shared is archived somewhere. It’s good to understand that what you post can come back to haunt you in the future.

•            Your account might be a roadmap to your door. Posting detailed information about your number, e-mail or address simply creates a roadmap to your door. Many people post details about upcoming vacations when they will be away from home. Use the available security settings and be cautious about the details you post. This goes for the applications that tell your current location, too.

•            Your posts and texts may be taken seriously. If you threaten someone or to do something harmful, saying you were just kidding or joking may not work. What might be joking or kidding to a close friend may not look like the same to a parent or a third party. In today’s climate, people err on the side of being extremely cautious with regard to threats and take them seriously.

Despite my predictions about the demise of the Internet, social media is likely here to stay. Our kids are more comfortable using it than we are, but it may be good to lay out some ground rules and have a conversation about appropriate use of social media. With younger kids, it probably pays to monitor what they are doing on social media or when they are texting their friends.

Our schools do a good job of educating our students on some of the issues related to social media, but this is primarily the responsibility of parents. Most of this activity takes place outside the classroom or the school. Using a belt-and-suspenders approach and being proactive is probably best.

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