Friday, 26 February 2016

Social Media: Facebook

I've decided to do a series of discussions about social media. I have often wondered if teachers should be the ones teaching about social media and appropriate use. Why? Many teachers seem unable or unwilling to think about their own user style with the platform but will berate students for doing the same thing.

Maybe this is because social media, as we now know it, is not old enough to have seasoned or sensible viewpoints? Or maybe it is just that people are becoming so hooked on it they they can't see the forest for the trees? Or maybe it is because new users tend to fall into the same trap over and over again which perpetuates any false thinking?

I've decided to begin with Facebook. It has the dubious honour of going first because it is the social media platform I am most familiar with. Yes, I openly admit that this will be a learning curve for me as most students I've taught know about about these platforms than I do!


First, let's do a background check
Facebook started off back in 2004 as a rather small group of individuals being able to share their life online with each other. Created by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook continued to evolve through until 2006 when suddenly if you had an email address (and we're older than 13 years) you could join.

ALL ABOUT ME

My Experience
I tried to find something on my own account that would indicate when I joined Facebook...but I appear to have failed miserably as I can no longer find the timeline event that states "Joined Facebook". From memory (and this is going back a few years) it would probably have been around 2007 after a penpal convinced me it was the thing to be on.

What's the Point of it?
Initially I found it a great way of connecting with people and then it happened...the sudden realisation as you mature and realise you have people on your "friends list" that you have never met and yet are sharing personal information with. I knew at that point, I think I had 250 "friends", it was time to get tough. The first thing I did was remove anyone who I actually didn't know and this included a long list of people who stated they "knew me" in high school (which I only attended for 18 months) but I didn't remember them at all.

After that I decided to tackle the remaining 100 or so people. I implemented my own 6-month rule (family members excluded as I see them all the time or communicate on other mediums).

6-Month Rule
I am a proactive person, I want to spend time with others...in person, not just on the Internet. In most friendships there is always one person who works harder than the others...I seem to be that person. I would always be initiating contact and yes, it bugged me. So I initiated contact with every, single person I was "friends" with and waited and waited. Replies to that contact don't count. They must contact me as the initiator. By the end of 6 months I deleted over 50 people.

By this point I have about 50 to go and I had to face the next hurdle.

The Workplace "Friends"
As a teacher you start work at a school and suddenly you feel the need to be friends with everyone there - at least on social media. Admittedly I watched my counter grow a bit even though I didn't even like some of those people.

My light bulb moment came about 6 months later when I faced a few facts - I was brutally honest...
* I did not like those people
* I did not speak to those people at work...unless I had to
* They were annoying me with what they posted (that's subjective but still!)
* Those people seriously trod on my toes in the workplace

So why on earth was I "friends" with them? After that night I was done to about 30 people and you know what? It felt so good!

Where am I now?
I have 25 friends listed. Mostly they are family (either immediate or extended) but there are a few teachers I worked with. My next 6 months is about to end and I predict at least 3 people will be "unfriended".


Let's Revisit...What's the Point of it?
Now, I use Facebook primarily for the following reasons...
* Stay in contact with family who live elsewhere in Australia and the world
* To sell off stuff I no longer have a use for

Me and the World
* My settings are as private as you can get them
* I add no one (family excluded) that I haven't actually met in person and had several conversations with
* I delete all posts etc. after 1 month. I do not like having a digital footprint. It can and will come back to bite you.


That's my current experience with Facebook. Even as an adult, albeit a young one, I made many mistakes including some I'm going to write about. This is probably partly because at the time there were no policies in the education system to guide me in what was right and wrong; Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the key is always to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.

I feel that one of the worst traps to fall into is that need: the wanting to be seen as being liked (or just having lots of friends). Another point, remember my penpal? I have found that as soon as penpals connect on Facebook your snail mail days are limited....and so it seems is the friendship. 
STUDENTS

Many years ago I worked in high schools and this was, at the time, the most popular social media. Facebook itself is not "evil". Anything can be a positive in your life but it depends on how you use it...and that comes from experience and maturity...and no, students don't have it.

The Most Common Pitfall...
* Friend Collecting *
This is that need to look like people actually like you. The need to fit in and be accepted by your peers. Being a teenager is tough and if you just don't beat to the same drum as your peers - well, teenage years can be the hardest you'll go through. Friend-Collectors are not always the awkward kid with no friends...no, the popular kids with lots of friends falls for this one as well as, let's face it, it's an ego-boost and that means a confidence-boost as well.

Students need to be taught about the value of friendship and what that actually means. Talking to someone doesn't make them your friend. Friendship requires give and take, learning about each other and developing a mutual respect and bond.

If students don't have those true friends it leads to them...
* feeling as if they need to project an image rather than themselves
* low self confidence/esteem - I need "their" approval to validate my life
* compulsion for needing to know what is going on all the time - think gossiping on steroids
* feelings of self-hate - this is where I must compare myself to everyone else but I'm never good enough - to compensate I spend even more time on my profile
* the selfie-addicted - I must show the world who I am...every 5 minutes
* bully or be bullied -Did you see what she was wearing?...I can't believe she said that I'm going to post...

Admittedly, the selfie-addicted is far more severe on other social media sites...but it is still present on Facebook. The last point is one of the most dangerous as it escalates so quickly. "Friends" turn very quickly on each other and secret groups/board have fueled this - they are like a group of people talking behind your back and smiling to your face.

It's Not All Bad
Facebook can be however a real positive in many different ways...
* study or idea-sharing groups to help with school work
* staying connected with family and friends who have moved away

Notice that list is short. If I think of more I will add them!


PARENTS

I'm going to include a discussion on here for parents as well. People are often better at writing than saying - if they want to confront you they'll do it in a note but never in person. A growing number of parents are, quite frankly, a large part of the problem in trying to teach their children to be responsible. 

Teacher Trashing
You think only students complain about their teachers? Think again. I have seen multiple teachers in tears over what some parents have commented on Facebook about them. No one stops to think that just because they have private settings it does not stop people from sharing, screen-capturing or simply cutting and pasting what has been written. Suddenly a comment stated in the heat of the moment to a select number of people is out there and more often then not there is no point locking the gate because that horse is gone!
A COUPLE OF BASIC RULES FOR TEACHERS, STUDENTS and PARENTS

Firstly, all teachers should be checking their own state's Education Department guidelines.
If you choose to ignore their guidelines - then do so at your own peril.

No Friending....
* students (if you're a teacher)
* teachers (if you are a parent or student)
* parents (if you're a teacher)

Why? 
I'm specifically going to address point 3 first...Many teachers will use the excuse "I know them outside of work" or "We work together". Quite simply if you have a person's child in your class you need to unfriend them for the duration. Of course, letting them know would be the thing to do if you really are friends and not simply "friends". A teacher needs to be just that - a teacher. Wearing more than one hat gets too complicated. You can not be completely objective if you have a colleague on your friends list who is also a parent. Those are different roles and relationships.

I was horrified when I was friended by parents. In fact, I temporarily changed my name on Facebook at one point so parents couldn't find me - yes, it was that bad. Worse still is that many of these parents were the ones who never came in for acquaintance night or meetings. 

Closed Groups
Mostly these are deemed to be fine if you create a private/closed Facebook group for your class/subject etc. and provide strict rules. Beware though as you may be held responsible for any negative behaviour, including bullying, that may occur. Carefully consider your class and their needs particularly for students who may not have access to Facebook (eg. no Internet) outside of school and may experience feelings of isolation about not knowing what their peers are talking about.
My opinion is that this is probably best left to students in higher year levels such as high school. By grade 10 most are beginning or are already more responsible with the online behaviour. Personally, I wouldn't even go there as I can see it being a bit of a mine-field and I have enough school work to do outside of work time and I don't want to add that as well.

Privacy
No matter who you are make sure you keep your life private and not open to the world. If you feel the need to tell complete strangers all about your life then start asking yourself...Why? 

Check-Ins
This became a popular trend a little while back but consider if you are checking-in all the time and have a public profile. You are giving a stalker every single detail they need to know to find you at all times...and that is a scary thought.
Photos
Don't post photos you wouldn't be happy showing to your grandparents. This goes for private AND public profiles. One click and it is out there and shared. Just. Don't. Do. It. 

Also remember to check your phone's setting to ensure that your photographs are not being encoded with the exact GPS location, date and time the photo was taken as this information can be obtained by a person if they desire unless you have it switched off before you start snapping away.

Age Inflating
I have seen students as young as 8 years of age with profiles on Facebook. Their parents are fully aware and allow it. Don't. Firstly, what message are you sending your child? It's okay to not follow rules when it doesn't suit? Great, so tomorrow I'll drive the car because it doesn't matter that I'm only 11 because I'll just pretend I'm 17 years instead....You get the picture. It's hard to say no to your child if you've already said yes before. Children have a very keen sense of fairness and they will use it against you if you paint yourself into a corner. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

We shouldn't be thinking that Facebook is to blame for problems, it is simply the medium in which problems occur. The cause of those problems always comes down to people and the way they use the platform - for better or worse.

Banning students/children from using it will inevitably backfire - it's the equivalent of having a "Do not push this button" sign above a button - the longer you look at the sign the more you want to press that button. We need to teach ourselves and the generations growing up how to properly harness Facebook and use it effectively so that it doesn't become an obsession nor a refuge from the real world and real people.
 
Everyone, in their own time, will realise if Facebook is a social media platform that is good/healthy for them. We need to teach and demonstrate by our own actions how to be a responsible digital citizen. This is not something that should be shouldered completely by a teacher, this is something every parents needs to be discussing at home because that is where it starts.

STOP, THINK, LEAVE IT, THINK, LEAVE IT, THINK, POST
 Keyword there is THINK. Think carefully before you click 'post'.

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