Firstly, Facebook can be great fun. Everyone can enjoy keeping up-to-date with friends and posting comments. It provides many positives opportunities for keeping in touch and keeping informed. Unfortunately there are also some negatives. People often forget the audience that their comments reach and can post hastily and without proper consideration of who might read it. It encourages young people to share more information than perhaps they would otherwise. Tagging photos, status updates and profiles can all lead to problems now and in the future.
As a school you have a distinct responsibility to help your pupils understand the risks and make the most of the advantages. You need to build into your curriculum opportunities to teach your pupils how they might protect themselves. It is worth reminding pupils that if they are younger than 13 they should not have a Facebook account at all. Of course, many do. You will need to decide what approach to take when you are aware of this.
Discussing the profile that pupils post is probably one of the first aspects that you will want to look at. How much information and what kind of information should they disclose? They need to think carefully about posting a profile picture and should only show the month and day they were born in their profile. They can check how their profile looks by going on ‘view my profile’ and should consider it from the point of view of the audience who might see it.
Privacy settings is another important area to cover. Young people are often unaware of the extent to which they can limit the audience for their posts. You can even customise them to ‘only me’ if you wish. Certainly having a ‘Friends Only’ is a good idea and should be accompanied by caution when accepting people as friends.
It’s true that young people are adept at using social networking websites but they are not always as familiar with the ways of protecting themselves that exist. Check that your pupils are familiar with the SMART rules and encourage an openness and a culture of trust that means pupils feel able to come to your staff if a problem emerges.
Knowing what to do if there is a problem should be an important part of your education programme. They can report or block a person by going to their Facebook page or clicking on ‘report’ to the right of the name of the person sending the message. If it’s a photo that is causing the problem you can choose the option ‘report this photo’ by clicking on the photo on that person’s page.
Amongst all this risk assessment, warning and policing do try to be positive about social networking sites. They and their descendents are here to stay and are the darling of many. It’s not the time to just focus on the disadvantages and you might want to encourage discussion about ways in which Facebook can be beneficial and how your pupils might make good use of it.