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Do We Need Social Media Education in Schools Now?

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.

ImageThe 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 of 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). Teaching students how to set their privacy levels on applications is only the starting line, not the finish line. The NCAA provides a list of recommended educators in their speaker registry. Find one that can educate your staff as well as your students. 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 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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Join The Conversation

  • Mar 1 Posted 4 years ago andypandy

    As a teacher, I already see problems with social media with my 10 year olds. It's about understanding perspective and the difference between communicating via a device and communicating face-to-face. My pupils need to learn how to respond to messages without assuming that their interpretation of a message might not be what was intended by the sender. 

    I intend to create lessons on understanding how to interpret and deal with messages via phones, Facebook, XBox, Nintendo etc because my pupils are struggling to cope.  

  • Jan 24 Posted 4 years ago Mhansley

    Children are being given iphones and have access to the freedom that it provides at an earlier age every year. I wonder whose responsibility is it to teach the child about the repercussions, dangers, and evils that they are being exposed to. This article presents one solution by suggesting that students be educated in schools about social media. I agree with this suggestion, but also wonder if it is more of the parents' job to educate their children and monitor the apps they download and the way they use social media, or maybe the social media industry's job to express their privacy settings in simple terms and make sure people are reading them.

    One theory is that it is not the children who need to be educated on the dangers, but the parents. At the very young age that children are starting to use social media, the threat of identity theft and other menacing consequences may seem unfathomable to them. As a parent who is openly exposing their children to this online world, it is their responsibility to know of the sites their kids are on and educate them about the faults in them. Maybe the education of social media sites doesn't belong in middle schools or high schools, but instead should be offered to parents on how to teach their children make sure they stay safe.

    Another thought is that the blame should lie on the industry, where privacy settings are difficult to understand and sometimes misleading. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) posted an article about their view of the privacy policies of one social media website and the deception it demonstrates. In the past, EPIC, " filed two complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) focusing on Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practice of sharing of user information with the public and with third-party application developers" ( Maybe the real culprits of this false trust people have in their privacy online are these websites with misleading policies. Time spent educating children or adults could be spared if the social media industry did their part.           

    I also believe that social media sites should do a better job at forcing people to read their privacy policies. Research shows that "many people skip over the privacy policy when joining a social network" because "most privacy policies are long and difficult to understand" ( These sites are making it increasingly easy to sign up, as well as increasingly easy to skip over privacy policies and settings. I think the websites should be more forceful with their approach, possibly by making people take a tutorial before signing up or also to remind them more frequently of changing policies and the consequences of them. Which solution is the best for maintaining the safety of the next generation is unknown, but I agree that the urgency to educate people about social media is escalating.

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Jan 23 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    I think you guys are both on the same page, just coming from different angles. I think part of Bradly's point, Stephen, is that the schools are already addressing some of these issues: bulllying, stalking, etc., but kind of ignoring one of the main media that encourages this behavior. Again, it's not necessarily about the technology itself, but learning how to manage the technology for kids that really  never get any instruction. Here's a great article from Mashable that appeared the other day that continues the discussion, in case you missed it.

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Jan 23 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    Yes Kent, we do have speech classes here--still required in many high school curriculums, but not all. Nothing like Dale Carnegie. Subjects that have to do with relationships are kind of taboo. But, anti-bullying education is very prevalent in our schools. Also, many schools are starting to adopt social media education. Here's an example of a website that sponsors a curriculum (free) used in many schools including the New York City school district, I believe.

  • Stephen Tamlin's picture
    Jan 23 Posted 4 years ago Stephen Tamlin

    You've entirely miss-understood me Bradly! I obviously was not saying that social media is the same as the telephone, that would be very stupid.

    I was relating the revolutionary effect the telephone had on commutations compared to previous communication methods at the time, this is similar to how the internet and social media has revolutionised modern communication. If you think how different the telephone was to the telegraph, that was my point Bradly.

    People need to understand the consequences of their actions in life, not just on the internet. That is what people should be taught. 



  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    Bradly-Thanks for the comments. I am in 100% agreement. It's about reputation, not the technology. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Bradly McGregor's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago Bradly McGregor

    Hi Stephen -- I'd just say that social media is completely different from the telephone. Can you do a Google search for telephone calls that you made when you were 14-years-old? Were you phone calls posted for everyone in the world to hear? Generally speaking, the consequences of what you said on a telephone don't even compare to the consequences of what you say via social media. Some of this stuff never goes away. Judging by what some youngsters are posting, it's clear that many don't grasp the consequences. 



  • Bradly McGregor's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago Bradly McGregor

    Chris, this is a great article, and I agree that responsible use of social media should be taught in schools. I don't see how social media is different from many other subjects in terms of utility. It's not going to go away anytime soon, and kids are going to have to know how to use them beyond just chatting with friends.

    Social media for most is about building a reputation. It's about networking. It's about self-marketing. I don't think most kids understand these concepts, especially ones who are young. The privacy issues you mention are extremely important because so many don't realize that what they post to their Facebook accounts or Twitter accounts may never go away.

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    Hi Stephen, Not sure that techonology is creating naive people, just increasing the consequences and speed of failure because of it. My concern is mainly a safety and privacy factor--it's not really about technology. Keep thinking about the topic--we need to find a way to help kids protect themselves.

  • Kent Ong's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago Kent Ong

    Hi Chris, I am not an American, sorry I don't really know the education culture in American, but imagine if Dale Carnegie courses, Toastmasters courses, or any other communication courses are in school education, don't you think it helps a lot?

  • Stephen Tamlin's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago Stephen Tamlin

    Great Idea, though I’m not sure social media needs to be thought in school. I'd agree with Kent Ong here.

    This would be similar to people being thought how to use the phone at school, when it was invented. It is worrying that technology is creating very naive people it seems, so this 'social communication' needs to be dealt with, people don't understand how act socially, or see the signs of others when they do not.

    I do really like the topic though and it's got me thinking so thanks Chris.

  • ChrisSyme's picture
    Jan 22 Posted 4 years ago ChrisSyme

    Interesting thoughts, Kent. Relationship education would be a challenge in U.S. public schools, don't you think? We have always been a nation that believes that belongs in the home, whether it's getting accomplished there or not (sadly).

  • Kent Ong's picture
    Jan 21 Posted 4 years ago Kent Ong

    we don't need social media school, but we need how to build relationship education, high EQ, how to communicate, etc. Because once we master these, we can apply anywhere.

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