Should we be teaching Facebook?

Today’s post comes from a new regular contributor to Bright Ideas, Tony Richards.

What an interesting week we have just had in relation to movements around cyber safety. Recently we saw splashed across the traditional media a principal’s ultimatum to students and parents “Quit Facebook or be expelled, school says”. The headlines play on the social stigma of expulsion and the dreaded boogie man that is Facebook.

I am sure there is much more to this story that meets the eye but what frustrates me and should concern other educators is the lack of clear understanding that is shown by educational leaders, along with the fear mongering cyber safety experts that get their media ego fix and pump up the tyres of fear around social networks. Yes Facebook has lots of issues and challenges for our children and adults alike, however social networks are here to stay.

We need to change the model and educate our children around why some of these tools are not the best option for communicating, sharing or playing games. The responsibilities one takes on when creating a social networking presence has some profound implications if you choose to ignore or plead ignorance around privacy, friends, comments and all the other components associated with these networks.

We must start to provide social tools at school within the educational environment that students can engage in so that we can model, explore, test, bend and experience connectivity at this level and what it means to operate successfully online.

I find it extremely interesting that one of the great misunderstandings about social networks, especially the larger social networking sites, is that the 13 and over rule found in the Terms of Service (ToS) is based on the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). This act and the law behind it is to enforce privacy restriction on the site owners. As stated in the news article by a Melbourne based lawyer “the Facebook guideline that stipulated users must be aged 13 and older was not enforced by any law.”

When children sign up under the age of 13 in Australia they are breaking the terms of service of the site. Facebook has the onus to ensure that children under the age of 13 don’t sign up, which begs the question, “How do you enforce such a situation?” The stark reality is that you can’t.

The recommendations from some sections of the media around reporting your children to Facebook and getting their account deactivated and cancelled is certainly one step. From my experience working with thousands of students each year if students want to have access then they will get it. If parents or the school have taken these types of steps to remove them then all our children will do is take it underground where you will have no opportunity to help or support them. You will have no credible way to have smart, honest conversations about what they should and should not share.

I am not advocating children breaking the ToS, but I am advocating talking about the challenges, the risks, the complications and the moral question around being part of a service when clearly they should not. We have to talk and listen to our students and we have to help them grow and develop online.

If I were teaching in a class this topic and that media headline would be the foundation of a week’s worth of discussion around the use of Facebook. Why are students on it, what is the draw, why does the media react in such a way and what could have possibly tipped a principal over the edge like this? The headline “Quit Facebook or be expelled” is screaming out for an impromptu debate, preferably with another school using a collaborative tool like Skype to highlight the power of the environment we all access.

What will you be talking about this week with your students around cyber smarts?

Tony has listed a range of cybersafety resources at his blog and he is available to present Online Smart sessions to students, parents, teachers, community organisations and business around successfully navigating social networks and the internet. You can find all of  Tony’s contact details on his profile page, or find him on Twitter @itmadesimple. Let us know what you think about the post in the comments or, quite fittingly, on our Facebook page.


One thought on “Should we be teaching Facebook?

  1. Hi Tony,

    I couldn’t agree more regarding Facebook. I believe it’s unrealistic to take such drastic measures to ‘quit Facebook or be expelled’ as the virtual world extends beyond the boundaries of the classroom, whether we as educators or parents like it or not.

    I’m currently undertaking a masters, and even now I’m not 100% sure of how Facebook’s privacy settings work. Apparently their privacy statement is longer than the U.S constitution, so it is unreasonable that we can expect high school students to navigate Facebook responsibly when adults have often been in hot water due to social media. It’s worrying that privacy doesn’t simply concern what we post. Like you mentioned, we can’t plead ignorance due to what our friends’ post, our ‘like’ pages, what groups we’re in, photos, and pretty much anything and everything that we may attribute to Facebook. The implications are indeed profound, even for those under 18 years of age, such as cyber bullying and having reputations tarnished.

    I definitely agree that schools need to provide students with the skills and knowledge required to navigate Facebook and other social media safely and ethically. Your point is especially poignant since there is nothing stopping a 12 year old from signing up to Facebook, despite the U.S Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.

    You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that students need to be instructed of the risks regarding Facebook, Skype, and the like. I think the appeal is for students to feel ‘connected’ to one another and it seems to be the most seamless and effective medium to do it.
    The sad thing is that Facebook can actually be a useful tool if used properly. I’ve set up group pages for assignments and have kept in touch with group members countless of times by using it. Perhaps one day it could be used as a collaborative tool within the classroom?
    Thanks for the interesting read!

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