Everybody wants to be famous. We are rapidly moving towards a world run by a reputation economy. Don’t believe me? Read Scott Westerfeld’s Extras. It’s not that far from today’s reality. Basically, the more friends you have and the more Likes you get on a status update or a photo, the more important you are and the “richer” you become.
And we could argue the merits of this for ages and not get anywhere. The world of social media is a world that considers privacy an outmoded concept. The Internet knows where you are and what you are doing at all times, and the majority of teens have no problem with that.
I’m not judging. I have a very large online footprint, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn. I even have a MySpace page (although I haven’t opened it in ten years). Being online isn’t evil. Promoting yourself isn’t wrong.
The conversation that has to be had between parents and students is the quality of your online reputation. Ask your child (and for good measure, ask yourself) how they think they are seen on Social Media. What are the words people would use to describe them? What sort of pictures and status updates are they posting and how does that make them look to the outside world?
Over the past few years, St James has made it a priority to talk to our students about the importance of knowing who you are sharing your information with. It is a fact of life that many of the “friends” our boys have on various Social Media sites are people they have never met, and in some cases, people they don’t even know. Logically, if you have 1500 friends on Facebook, some of them will be strangers. Again, try not to judge. The concept of “Friend” on social media is different to the traditional meaning of the word. A more accurate term would be “Contact”. These are people who share their interests, even if they haven’t met IRL (In Real Life). Unfortunately, Facebook’s insistence in using the term “Friend” gives users of the site an artificial sense of familiarity with these strangers they have invited into their lives.
Again, this is where it is time to talk to your child. Ask him how many contacts he has on various Social Media sites. How many of these people does he know IRL? What information about him can they find out from looking at his profile information, pictures and posts? And what are the possible dangers involved in giving strangers access to this information?
Talk to him about Privacy settings. Most of the boys I have talked to over the past few years have an excellent grasp of privacy settings and actually do care about keeping private information from strangers. The problem is, they don’t consider their 1500 friends “strangers”, even if they have no idea who some of them really are.
Once more, and as I will do at the end of each of these articles, I must stress that a knee-jerk “the Internet is evil and I must protect my child from it!” reaction to Social Media could do more damage to your son or daughter than simply talking to them about issues and trying to understand this Brave New World. A few simple safety precautions and conversations will do far more for your child’s safety.