Attending The Social Shake-up in Atlanta this week? Send us a note if you'd like to meet up at the event.

What Students Need to Know About Social Media Privacy

Schools and colleges are scrambling to put together social media training for their students. Whether it’s middle school students or college athletes, the push is on to teach them how to guard their social media privacy.

When I first started training college athletes the emphasis was on showing screenshots identifying bad behavior, quoting privacy statistics, and warning kids about dangerous places on the internet. Today, the information need is shifting. Students still need basic information about responsible social media behavior, especially at the middle and high school levels.  However, training for older students needs to be more focused on their critical needs.

In the first of this series on social media training, I identified different needs and behaviors of each age group, and recommended that social media training is not a “one size fits all.” In this article, I’ll take a look at the first of three essential curriculum pieces of an effective social media training for students. These include privacy, cyber harassment, and best practices.  In each category, I’ll help you understand how to apply that piece to different age groups.

 social media privacy and students

  1. Personal Privacy

The king of content in any social media  training should be about how to navigate personal privacy settings. As we discovered in the first article, students of all ages are building different communities in their social media world, and it is common for the privacy settings to be different in each.

For instance, a student may have more open privacy settings on Facebook where they are building a profile that reaches across several communities: family, close friends, teammates. In these mixed communities, students will share more universal information that is not intimate or community-specific. Because this is where many students “friend” their parents, they won’t share “insider information” from their various peer groups. It is also common for students to set up a second social media account (especially Facebook and Twitter), with a name that only their close friends know. With the proliferation of schools setting up monitoring systems for students in high school and college, more students are using workarounds to get away from watchful eyes.

UPDATE June 3: To give clarity to the problem, McAfee recently released their annual online behavior survey and it showed that only 61 percent of teens enable their privacy settings and an alarming 52 percent do not turn off the location setting on their phone.

When it comes to privacy, it is important to help students of all ages understand that privacy settings often change and they need to be sure and track each of their accounts regularly, especially Facebook. Most students will not read the terms of service on individual channels, so it is important for you to decipher the important points for them. Teach them the importance of understanding concepts like location, how to block users, and how people can search for them on social media channels. I would make the important link between what students share in the “About” section on Facebook and how they can be searched by what they share.

Specific points for differing age groups:

Middle School

First off, if you are considering social media training for your middle school students, Bravo! Since kids are not supposed to have social media accounts until they are 13, this may be their first official foray into social media. This is where the step-by-step, “this is how you set up an account” training should take place. Students need to know how to fill out profiles, channel by channel, and they need to walked through each of the channel privacy settings with screenshots. It is especially important to show them how to set privacy settings on items in the “About” section of Facebook, as this is the information Graph Search uses. Anything left public in this section is visible to anyone on Facebook.

I recommend a workbook curriculum at this age—something they can take home with them. I also recommend a parental handbook be sent home, or training be facilitated for parents as well.  Make the dangers of mishandling privacy clear to this group. Even though we will discuss cyber harassment in the next article, I want to reiterate that privacy instruction needs to emphasize the element of protection as well as putting up community walls. Be sure and designate a resource person on staff they can ask for help.

High School

For the most part, this age group has crossed over completely from parental influence to peer influence. It will be more common for them to have established several social media communities, some with different usernames. They are more aware of how to keep these personas private, but their behavior on social media may get riskier, due to this false sense of security.

Teens in this group rely on social media to keep in touch with their communities, many of which they don’t see on a regular basis because of time commitments and over protective parents. Because this group uses experimentation to try and establish their adulthood, their social media interaction may exhibit some inappropriate behavior that seems uncharacteristic. It’s time to get a refresher course on the basics of privacy settings.

The privacy instruction in this age group should concentrate on making sure that location and tagging information is understood. It’s also important to understand the impact of screenshots and how to take them, especially for cyber harassment purposes. After one of my college freshmen workshops, an administrator asked me why I showed all the athletes how to download a picture saver for the Snapchat application. I told them I’ve had students come and tell me months later that one piece of information helped them re-think the way they used all messaging applications, especially Snapchat. More on this in the next article on Cyber Harassment.

Students at this age also need to be made aware of appropriate behavior in private places such as locker rooms, bathrooms, hallways, and bedrooms. Remind them that behavior in private places may not stay private. They should be aware at all times that anything they do may become a video or picture on someone else’s social media. Be sure and make the connection between their privacy habits and their ability to get into a good college, get an athletic scholarship, or even get that job they want after they get out of school.  Remember that every student you are training is not going on to college. Make it relevant to everyone.

College Age-Athletics Specific (First Year)

When students move from dependence to independence, a whole new view of privacy will be formed. Fall or summer orientation for freshmen/transfer student-athletes is a perfect time to facilitate social media training. Even though this age group behaves more like high school kids, their privacy instruction needs to widen like their audience will. The biggest complaint I find with this group: they are angered, confused, embarrassed (insert other adjectives here) that people they do not know are interested in what they are doing on social media. Some refuse to believe it, some don’t care and carry on as if it doesn’t apply to them.

Whatever their belief, it needs to be made clear that there are many people who are interested in what they have to say, whether it is fans, media, coaches, or stalkers. They need to start contemplating choices at this stage: do they want to build a public brand with their social media practice, protect their privacy completely, or do a mix of the two(danger/warning).

The biggest problem I’ve noticed is when students want to be a public-private person. It usually doesn’t work. Not so much with Facebook, but Twitter is a big culprit here. Students need to understand how to protect their Twitter and Instagram accounts, how to block people, and how to report spam and abusers. Make sure they understand how to ask for help if their privacy is compromised online (more about that when we talk about Cyber Harassment).

I’ve seen the number of protected Twitter accounts rise rapidly over the last two years. This is a good sign. Not every student-athlete is interested in building a personal brand on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a freshman. Start talking to them more about professional channels like LinkedIn and Give them options.

College Age (Seniors and Graduate Students)

Students at this stage are looking beyond college to career development. Their privacy training on social media should reflect that. It is not uncommon for students that have not used social media as a brand builder to this point, to think that shutting down their current social media accounts and starting new ones is the answer.

Students at this age need specific instruction on how to prepare their social media profiles for a job search or graduate school applications. If they haven’t been using social media well to this point, they have some work to do. If they don’t want to delete their irresponsible profiles or materials, the risk needs to be made clear.

Remind them that some of their photo galleries on Facebook are public (such as profile pictures) and that they may want to go through and delete some of the outdated, unprofessional photos there. Walk this age group through the basics of setting up the following five profiles and making sure they portray themselves as professionals. Some of them will just need to clean up their privacy on channels they have already established. Give them blog and book resources on how to build professional social media channels.

  • Google Plus (based on a Gmail email account that uses their real name)
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook (friends-only)

More on this in the article on Best Practices.

For Twitter and Facebook, this may mean unfriending and unfollowing some people. Your privacy instruction for this age group should have a professional angle. Talk to them about the power of social media to be a professional difference maker. More on that in the Best Practices article.

Even though this is a quick overview of how to approach privacy in your social media training, you are welcome to contact me with any questions you have. 

Join The Conversation

Webinars On Demand

  • May 09, 2017
    With all of the technologies available to marketers today, have we lost that personal touch? Join VP of Content Marketing for ON24, Mark Bornste...
  • April 05, 2017
    In the ever-changing world of digital marketing, operational efficiency, quick turn-around times, testing and adapting to change are crucial to...