Do We Need Social Media Education in Schools Now?

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When I was a junior in high school, my U.S. History teacher was a former government archivist. His teaching style was as dry as unbuttered toast, and his teaching methods were challenging. Memorization. As long as you could recite every important person, date, battle, document signing, and benchmark law, you were an ace. He was a classic example of education without learning. The recitation of information without an understanding of its importance is not education. It’s an exercise in data.

The recent story of Manti Te’o is a perfect example of education without learning. He knew how to use social media, but didn’t understand its power.  Have we failed the next generation by equipping them with all the bells and whistles to get connected without teaching them how to use those tools responsibly?

Cons have been around as long as time. Should we start with the story of Jacob fooling his blind father by covering his arms with animal hair to steal the family blessing?  We teach our children not to take candy from strangers, but we buy them IPhones that give those same strangers unfiltered and unsupervised access to their private worlds.

Hoaxes are not new, but the social media tools we use have accelerated the speed and the space they can operate in before being detected. Schools are jumping on the social media bandwagon. The blogosphere is filled with articles showing elementary, high schools, and colleges how to use social media effectively. We all want to be social, but are we missing the inherent risks?

We don’t know if the facts of the Manti Te’o hoax will ever be known. But it doesn’t matter. He is not the first student-athlete to be the victim of an online hoax and he will not be the last. This blow-by-blow account by a former University of South Carolina pitcher gives us eerie insight into the emotional roller coaster of such catfishing schemes. Some think that many of these schemes go unreported simply due to embarrassment. What are the bigger lessons?

There is an urgent need to educate students at all levels on the responsible use of social media. It’s time to help students navigate this unfiltered world of anonymous faces. When searching for a curriculum for social media education, make sure you pay attention to these critical points:

1.       Find a curriculum that addresses the concept of fraud filters as well as privacy. Social media is an unfiltered stream. Instead of just blocking access to social platforms or punishing bad behavior, teach students how to implement  filters on their social channels. Filters can be tools or guidelines, but mostly they are a checklist of behaviors that help students protect their reputation and well being. In this post, Huffington Post tech officer John Pavley lists a few suggestions that may help social users detect fraud.

2.       Make sure students are educated on the latest changes in platform privacy settings. Even though a one-time workshop on the responsible use of social media is a good first step, follow-up is essential. Just like the software updates that pop up on your computer screen, privacy settings on social media platforms change frequently. Unfortunately, Facebook won’t send out an update every time they make a change that affects your privacy settings. And history shows that when social media channels make any changes to their platform, they always default the privacy settings associated with the change to the most public use.

3.       Alert students, parents, coaches, and faculty to new applications that are dangerous.  New social media applications emerge daily. Do you know what applications are on your students’ phones? Just recently I sent out a warning about a new application called Chirp that allows a user to send out a picture via signal to anyone in the vicinity with the same application. No filters. See their terms of use here and pay attention to the last paragraph. Applications like this one purport a savvy business use of sharing documents, but their application for privacy is deathly.  Snapchat is another dangerous application that is catching on like wildfire with the younger crowd. It’s popularity is driven by the adrenaline of taking risks.

4.       Make sure to show the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Social media is a path to many goals. It’s important for students to hear and see the success stories as well as screenshots of the horror stories. Shame is not as good a motivator as reward. Look for people who are doing it right. You can start with the University of Washington’s preferred athlete program. They are training selected student-athletes to represent the department in their personal Twitter feeds, and then promoting their tweets. Find students who are using their social media channels to build their reputations and showcase their channels.

5.     Find a facilitator/provider that specializes in education, not just tools. This is not a job for social media marketers (no offense). And teaching students how to set their privacy levels on applications is only the starting line, not the finish line. Find one that can educate your staff as well as your students. The NCAA provides a list of recommended educators in their speaker registry. My agency has a specific curriculum workshop aimed at responsible use called Practice Safe Social. If you live in the south, I have a colleague at Northwestern State in Louisiana (a former sports information director, like myself) that is providing the training as well. Please contact me for more information on how you can choose a good social media education trainer.

Is it time for social media responsible-use education in our schools? Certainly in our collegiate athletic departments…and soon.  What are your thoughts? Please keep the conversation going in the comments.

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  • I think that would be ideal, especially considering that most schools already have a regular newsletter that goes out. It wouldn’t be much extra work for someone to put in an extra half page or so with updates on the pitfalls of social media, and could catch the eyes of a lot of students if they also included some interesting stats or news on the latest trends online.

  • cksyme

    Erik-What do you think about the idea of having a school district’s IT or social media person (most have them now) putting out some kind of a regular real-time update, like a monthly newsletter? I still wish we could get it into the classroom, say in an assembly-type program. Hopefully somebody will pick up that ball and run with it at the middle school and up levels. Being a former teacher (once upon a time), I just know that school environments sometimes carry more weight than parents, believe it or not.

  • I certainly agree that it’s a must for those in athletic programs who are sure to be bombarded with far more than your typical student’s volume of social traffic, as well as being more of a target for scams.

    As far as the general populace, while I do agree in principle, I don’t see the money being there for most schools. I do believe it would be easy enough to at least put material out there, especially in front of the eyes of parents, many of whom are still dangerously clueless about what their kids could be (or are) doing online.

    Considering that, I think that perhaps parent workshops would be the best solution for the general student population. At this point most every school should be able to search out a social media expert, or at least power user, who is willing to explain the basics at no charge.