Social Media is no longer a buzzword, a "new fad", or the next wave of...well, anything. It's a well-solidified and very mainstream part of our everyday lives, both personal and business. What used to be the domain of teens and geeks is now home to grandma, cousin Eddie, your pharmacy and favorite restaurant, and your children's school. It's this last entry that becomes a little disturbing in some situations, and it needs to change.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that education has joined the social media world, and there are dozens of benefits that most of us could think of to having our kids' schools using Facebook for recognitions and information, Twitter for alerts, or Pinterest for the cute pictures from last month's field day or class trip to the aquarium or museum.
The problem is with safeguards. Although businesses are still adapting to precautionary measures with their employees and social media, most are well into that process. Many have already adopted social media management tools to ensure that their brand and reputation aren't damaged through careless posts by cavalier employees. It is in this area, with regard to the safety of the children primarily, that educational institutions have got to do some policy making, training, and enforcing.
First of all, a third grade class' Facebook page should not be public - that's just common sense. There is no reason whatsoever to try to gain followers or increase likes for a school's social page that is centered around students and parents. These should be closed, private groups that have taken care to inspect their privacy settings and which review the same regularly and purposefully. Why? Because there are bad people in the world today, and they use social media to find new victims. None of us want our little Jimmy or Tiffany to be one of those victims.
Parents have to be a part of that responsibility, which is an increasing problem in and of itself. Too many parents view schools as a decade-long day care for their children which allows them to go on with their own lives until mid-afternoon, at which point they drop them at some other, extra-curricular activity for more babysitting. When it comes to the childrens' school using social media, parents are the only line of defense if the schools are being too casual with their children being pasted all over the internet.
This problem exists at every level of education, from grade schools to universities. Of course kids have their own accounts with which they can expose their mistakes to the world at every turn once they come of a certain age, but that doesn't mean that their school should be guilty of furthering the problem. So what specifically can or should be done?
At school safety issues I mean. I deal with social media as part of my job, so while I may not have conducted extensive research or consulted with security experts, I do have two cents to throw into the conversation.
As previously mentioned, the first line of defense in my view is making any and all social pages which deal with students in any way 100% private, accessible only to their direct teachers, principals, parents, and the children themselves if they are of sufficient age and their parents allow them on the social sites. Then, as also previously mentioned, security settings should be adjusted well beyond the default settings to make sure that the privacy of the group is indeed established and that it is maintained. This maintenance must be ongoing as teachers leave, children move up in grades, or any other changes occur which would necessarily exclude someone from being part of the group any further.
Further, there should really (in my humble opinion) not be any posts through social media on the school's part which include pictures of the students. Even with privacy settings maxed out, hacking is a real issue. And we all know that once something is posted to Facebook it is there for ever and ever, amen, or at least we should at this point. Leave the pictures for posting on the classroom wall for the children to enjoy during school and parents to oooh and ahhh at during PTA meetings.
All in all, social media can be an invaluable tool for schools to use when communicating with parents and even for certain elements of students' schedules or assignments. That tool's usefulness does not in any way supercede the safety of the students, however. And like I said before, there are plenty of bad people out there looking for any opportunity possible to do something bad to someone. Don't let it be our children.