Like it or not, students are more connected to wireless information and networks than ever before. As parents and educators, we cannot ignore this reality in the hope that it will either go away or that students will somehow magically learn appropriate cyber behaviour. Instead, we must arm ourselves with as much information as possible so that we can guide young people through the maze of information and cyber networks available to them.
One such cyber network is the ever-popular Facebook. Founded by former Harvard University student Mark Zukerburg in 2004, Facebook currently has between 8 and 10 million users and a net worth of more than $10 billion.
But what is Facebook? Facebook’s website describes the network as “a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.” Simply put, Facebook is a social network that allows the users to connect with their friends and their friends, their friends’ friends, and so on.
When users apply for a Facebook account, which is free, they are asked to fill out a profile that prompts them to provide information about their interests, activities, friends, and high school and/or university education along with optional information such as their home address and phone number. From there, the possibilities are endless. Facebook’s platforms are ever changing and updating; users never get bored. This is the appeal to young people—and a possible source of trouble.
Educating kids on the possible dangers of posting private and/or personal information on a social networking site such as Facebook should be a priority for parents and educators alike. Once information is “out there” in the cyber world, it is impossible to know for sure who can get their hands on it. For this reason, young people need to be aware that posting inappropriate and/or embarrassing photos or videos could come back to haunt them many years later. As well, giving out private/confidential information on Facebook and other social networking sites could open the door to possible cyber predators.
So, what do parents need to know? First, parents need to get involved. Open a Facebook account of your own and learn, along with your child, how to use the technology safely and appropriately. Second, monitor your child’s computer use. Keep the computer in an open, visible area of the house. Third, ask questions, talk, keep the lines of communication open with your children. Know what they are doing on the website. There is a fine line between respecting their privacy and safeguarding them from potential dangers. Finally, understand that Facebook is a powerful networking tool that, used safely, can open many doors for the young and old alike.
If you would like to know more about Facebook and other social networking sites, here are some useful links.
OnGuard Online: Your Safety Net
Although this is a US-based site sponsored by the American government, it provides valuable information on social networking.
Social Networking in Plain English
Created by Common Craft Productions, this simple, short video explains how social networking sites work and why they are appealing.