Thursday, 7 February 2013

To tweet, or not to tweet?

Safer Internet Day considers our fascination with Twitter


Issues surrounding social networking site - twitter
Are you an avid tweeter? Do you spend an hour or two each day updating your social network statuses?

A recent study by the UK Safer Internet Centre found that over 95 per cent of 11−19-year-olds communicate online, through social networking sites like Twitter.

To coincide with this month’s Safer Internet Day this article will consider the issues surrounding Twitter and offer advice on how young people can avoid many of the associated problems and risks.

Hidden in the depths of Twitter’s terms and conditions is the mention that its services are not intended for use by individuals below the age of 13. Whether this comes as a surprise or not, many of those who use the social networking site are below this age.

Twitter is a unique information network, helping millions of people to send and share small bursts of information, instantly. Yet some critics have begun to question Twitter’s avoidance at dealing with issues involving young people, particular as the tool is widely embraced by the celebrity world and used to communicate with fans, many of whom have a following of pre-13-aged children.

While social media networks help children and teenagers to develop essential communication and technical skills, a report in Pediatrics, a scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), identified the need to educate young people on how to use these sites in a healthy way.
Social Media Networks

The abundance of new networking sites has grown exponentially in recent years, so much so that for many young people these sites have become the primary way of communicating and sharing information with their friends and family. Parents therefore need to understand these technologies and their child’s behaviour while using these sites, if they are to offer guidance on how to avoid potential risks.

For many young people technology has been part and parcel of their life, as digital natives, the way in which young people access, share, and store information has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

This week, in a school study conducted by the BBC, students were asked what they perceived to be the main issues surrounding the use of Twitter. Although much of the feedback was positive, students pointed out some of the underlying issues that either they themselves or a peer has experienced. One such problem relates to the anonymity an individual can gain. This can involve setting up a ‘fake’ profile or simply changing privacy settings; for some individuals this gives them the impetus to post inappropriate, harmful or discriminative comments and content. For others, the mere fact that Twitter is an online service and not face-to-face, gives individuals the confidence or shelter to say things they may not have otherwise said.

In each of these instances the problem can quickly escalate and increasingly affect the vulnerable party. Social networking sites, by definition, offer users quick and simple access to share comments, images and invitations, and so a small argument between two individuals can soon spread to a much wider audience. Australian Corey Worthington is one of the most well-known examples of the power of social networking: a fifteenth-birthday party spiralled out of control and led to neighbours fleeing their homes, vandalised cars and a full-scale police raid.   It also served as the inspiration for the 2012 film Project X, in which a group of high school students attempt to throw an unforgettable party and out of fear of no one turning up they post the invite on craigslist (an online community site, featuring free online classified advertisements).

Most young people are aware of the need to be vigilant online. However, following the report in the journal Pediatrics, doctors have highlighted the importance for parents in identifying potential problems early on, such as exposure to inappropriate content, online bullying, ‘Facebook depression’ and increasingly the issue of sexting.

What can you do to protect your child’s safety online?

The report extends its analysis of the problems and identifies some of the preventative techniques parents can use:
  • create an open discussion with your child about how the internet can be used both positively and negatively,
  • talk about the issues surrounding safety, identify the specific risks (cyber bullying, sexting, etc), how they start and how to avoid potential risks,
  • engage with your child, share in the use of the internet and encourage healthy use of social networks,
  • if these methods are not suitable or gain little engagement, parents are advised to monitor online behaviour, firstly in a collaborative way and then as a final resort in the use of monitoring software.
Today, the use of smart devices has become commonplace for many children and the offer of instant internet connectivity has meant that these risks are potentially more harmful than they once were. Yet this has also supported the rise in effective e-learning and the use of the internet to enhance teaching and engage learners.

We appreciate that this is a somewhat delicate issue and as a parent you’ll be best placed to select the most appropriate way of educating your child, if you’d like to offer your experience or recommendations then please do post in the comments section below.

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