I’ve noticed a lot of schools now have their own Facebook pages. Here are some examples: Ramblewood Middle School; Da Vinci Arts Middle School; Lincoln High School. These pages are generally created by teachers, school administrators, or school counselors as a virtual gathering place to students and staff. Does your school have one?
I can clearly see many advantages of connecting with students using the medium they are using. Teens are on Facebook everyday, and creating a portal from which they can connect with their schoolmates could certainly be a positive thing. School Facebook pages can create online communities for current and former students where they can communicate about various issues and display school pride. Furthermore, important school information can be posted to these pages (sports schedules, early dismissals, lunch menus, etc.). Student creative work, such as art, writing, or videos, also can be uploaded for all to see.
All that said, there could be problems or potential issues associated with having a school Facebook page. For example, if a student becomes a fan of the school Facebook page and has evidence of violations of school policy or the law on her own Facebook page, does the school employee moderating the school page have an obligation to report that evidence to the school or police? What if a teacher sees a message on a student’s page that says there will be a party where alcohol will be served at another student’s house on Friday night? Should (or must) the teacher call the parents of students with questionable material or would there be school consequences (such as removal from sports teams) for inappropriate information? Is it better that teachers simply don’t know what their students are doing away from the classroom?
In general, I believe the potential benefits would outweigh the risks and challenges associated with school Facebook pages. To be sure, school officials who set up Facebook pages need to clearly understand their responsibilities in the event they observe inappropriate conduct or information and students too need to understand these issues as well. As long as appropriate guidelines are established and adhered to, school Facebook pages could be a beneficial way to communicate with students (and parents) using a medium they are already very comfortable with. What do you think?
Ok, now that we have discussed some of the risks and benefits of social networking, I want to return to an issue that we have discussed before on this blog. And that is whether or not any one particular social networking environment is “safer” than the others. And if so, how? When I talk to adults I often hear them say that they would never let their children on MySpace, but they allow them on Facebook. MySpace certainly received the weight of the negative attention that was directed toward online social networking over the last couple of years, but again, in essence Facebook isn’t any different. Or is it?
We are definitely seeing a trend of adolescents migrating away from MySpace to Facebook. In our presentations to students I we always ask how many of the attendees have profiles on MySpace and/or Facebook and the ratio has begun to shift in favor of Facebook. I even find this to be true among my friends; even though I have been on Facebook for a couple of years, I have received more friend requests in the last several weeks than ever before (whereas hardly anyone contacts me on MySpace anymore).
What are your thoughts? Have you also seen this trend away from MySpace and toward Facebook? What do you think explains this? Do you think there is a perception among the public that Facebook is safer than MySpace?
I was giving presentations at a school in Pennsylvania (last week) and got to the point in my presentation with parents and staff in the district about the risks and benefits associated with online social networking. When talking about the issues, I try to be reasonably impartial – simply presenting the facts as I see them. When pressed, however, I generally concede to my audiences that I believe the benefits to outweigh the risks – especially when these sites are used appropriately and responsibly. One concerned parent in the audience had trouble with this. His argument was that the risks clearly outweighed any potential benefit from sites like MySpace and Facebook and that they should therefore be avoided altogether by adolescents. Instead of arguing with him, I decided to open it up to the audience and several folks identified a number of potential benefits of social networking. So clearly there are benefits. The question remains, however, do the benefits outweigh any potential risk?
I don’t know. We are in a unique position as researchers in that we see the best and worst of online social networking. We talk to adolescents (and adults for that matter) who have been harassed through these sites. On the other hand, we also see creative writing and other expressions of adolescent identity depicted on the sites. So what do you think? Weigh in with your thoughts about whether or not we should encourage youth to participate in online social networking web sites.
I was recently talking to a colleague (who is an economist at my University) and he told me of an experience that recently happened with his daughter. She was at a get-together at a hotel in our city where alcohol was being served. Somehow the police found out about the party and busted all of the under-aged drinkers. My friend’s 18-year-old daughter had very little to drink, so the cops just sent her home with a warning. Others in the group weren’t as lucky. The students who were busted later learned that the cops found out about the party because one particular person who was on her way to the party was pulled over by the police and she had told them that she was on her way to a party at that particular hotel. It goes without saying that those who got busted were not happy about this. In response, my friend’s daughter “anonymously” created a Facebook page making fun of this girl and calling her out for being a “rat,” among other disparaging remarks. This is an example of cyberbullying.
This anecdote is consistent with our research which demonstrates that many cyberbullies engage in online aggression because they feel they have been affronted (either online or off). They also don’t think they will get caught or fully think through the consequences of their actions. Well, the Facebook page was easily traced back to my friend’s daughter and, of course, he had a good talk with his daughter. My friend doesn’t consider his daughter to be a bully; nor does his daughter view herself as a bully. Nevertheless, even good kids make mistakes, and, unfortunately with the age of technology, small lapses in judgment can result in serious problems. Do yourself a favor if you have teen-aged kids who are online: talk to them about these issues NOW so you don’t have to do it after an incident occurs. Good luck.