Thursday, October 20, 2011

The dangers of social media for youth

The high school of my daughter organised a meeting about "internet and social media". As you might guess it was focused on the dangers.. "The potential hazards are discussed and the possibilities to take measures to enhance safety .." It was very funny to hear someone do the opposite of what I do: I'm trying to enthuse people about professional use of social media and Donny Gieskens of the 'stichting veilig online' (Foundation internet safety) is raising awareness about the dangers of Internet and social media .. and he did make his point! Especially with his presentation with the blonde girl on his webcam who turned out to be an old man:). There are a lot of technical possibilities to create innovative online communities, but also for people with bad intentions.

I wanted to make notes for this blog post but thought a laptop would look kind of weird. And there was no wifi so live-blogging was not even an option. Eventually I brought an iPad for notes and I was the only one. Finally I did not dare to take pictures because it is forbidden by school protocol!.

Though I pity the fact that social media are usually approached from the danger side by parents, it felt useful to have a look at side of social media to which I usually don't pay a lot of attention. I might give it a clearer space within my own work.

Some facts

First some facts and figures for 12-16 year olds in the Netherlands

  • What does a typical teenager do on the internet? Main use is YouTube (videos), MSN messenger (chat), browsing (surfing), social media (contacts and new contacts), Word (word processing) and games (gaming)
  • 87% had a bad experience through the internet.
  • 1 in 4 boys aged 12-16 engages in cybersex
  • 2 out of 10 have met someone in real life they met through the Internet (but so do I!)
  • 1 in 100 parents think their child has been involved in cyberbullying
  • However, 40 out of 100 teenagers has really engaged in cyberbullying
  • 12-16 year olds play on average 1 hour day games
  • There are already 5.9 million years played in the game World of Warcraft
  • On average, a 21 year old has gamed for 10,000 hours
The dangers

1. Information sharing

Importantly, a lot of information is shared by children, which the parents don't want to be shared, such as holiday dates (burglars are actively using the internet for information too!). The caches of search engines will all be kept for five years, what teenagers do not always realize. So when you share a picture when you are 16, this picture may still be found on the net when you apply for a job at 21. The privacy settings on social networking sites (like MySpace and Facebook) are not always set consciously to visible for friends only. Moreover Twitter has a public account by default, what teenagers may not realize. Youngsters do not always realize what their settings are and whether their information is public or visible only to friends. Also with links between network sites like Twitter and Facebook privacy settings can be overwritten. On a positive note: companies like MySpace and Facebook may sell user statistics, but not the individual information, because it is protected by the (dutch) law on personal data.

Some tips on sharing information are: Use a nickname (not your own name and not sexygirl15). This is an opinion contrary to my advice in building a professional identity however ... And ensure good privacy settings: have a look at them together.

2. Cyberbullying

Bullying can be done by acquaintances or strangers (anonymous).

Tips: Keep all threatening or bullying emails. Every Internet connection has its own IP address, and is recognizable. In a chat program you can block unwanted people, chat programs are required to provide this function. If bullying comes from a public computer, eg library, there are many cameras that have registered who have made use of this computer, so the anonymous persons are traceable.

3. Phishing

Phishing is social engineering by imitating emails individuals are trying to extort information. If you give someone your password voluntarily and they abuse is by posting on your behalf or using your credit card it is still a crime (contrary to popular belief). Your password is yours alone. This is a legal offense.

Phishing Tips: Change your password every 70 days, using 5 digits 2 3 Unicode characters. A good free virus program is Do not forget to log out when you leave a computer. Automatic locking may also help.

4. Gaming

Gaming is also positive for the development of language, manners and communication. Unfortunately, 3 out of 10 parents buy games for 18 + for children under 18. 6 out of 10 parents have no control over the types of games that teenagers play.

Tip: Know what they play!
Do not buy 18 + games for under 18.

5. Sexual Abuse

Especially for girls a modeling offer may be tempting, and it comes with the instruction not to consult with the parents. Also, blackmail and threats occur. He showed a convincing example of a man who posed as webcam blonde girl. So you think you are talking to a nice girl, but in fact it is someone else.

Tips: If you suspect abuse attempts: contact the site administrator. In case of concrete evidence: File a report with the police. Webcam only with people you know in real life. To check authenticity of the webcam image: ask to raise a hand. Cover the webcam with a cloth so the webcam can not film from a distance without you noticing.

Some general tips for parents:
Talk to teens about online behavior and provide parental control and agree on time limits, etc., after school, not directly behind your computer, check age limit games, talk about experiences, learning a critical attitude. Write an Internet protocol and let the teenager sign.

I'm a little double about this focus on the dangers. It is useful to me, because it is my invisible spot. On the other hand, you could have a much wider and interesting debate about social media, socially-constructed learning and learning within the curriculum..

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