Social networking takes up most of our time in this digital age. For the kids today, social behaviour in the offline world does not vary much from their activities in the online world, but the risks involved online are many. From cyber bullying to online predators, kids need to be extra cautious about what they post online and even more so about what they share on Facebook and how much.
In an interesting development last month, Facebook published a guide to help educators and the community better support teens accessing the social network. The guide is Facebook’s way of building a responsible social network for its more than a billion users across the globe.
The guide called ‘Facebook for Educators and Community Leaders Guide’ is a 16-page PDF document that has been created with the help of organisations like Family Online Safety Institute, WiredSafety, ConnectSafely.org, the Girl Scouts of Northern California , the PACER Center , Edutopia and many others.
It covers various aspects of understanding teens and their attitude towards social media, Facebook’s Community Standards with guidelines that govern how the billion users of the network interact with each other in a safe manner, reporting abuse, preventing bullying, controlling your privacy, online security and more. With the increasing use of smartphones by kids, there is also a section on safe mobile usage and the right settings for mobile apps.
This could be particularly useful to the teens whose primary device for internet access is their mobile, but parents and educators alike also get an opportunity to understand the new communication medium.
What this could mean for India?
While the guide has received support from various quarters involved with teens’ safety, its use and implementation can come about only with effective educational programmes. Facebook is already battling a PIL filed in the Delhi Court by KN Govindacharya, a former BJP ideologue and RSS patron, in which a major focus is on the concerns regarding minors accessing the network, even when Indian laws do not permit it.
An alarming case brought to light by the PIL was the Gurgaon smoke and sex party that had gathered minors through Facebook. Recently, a 13-year old student from Vidya Niketan, Bangalore had complained of being bullied on social media, which led to the school asking parents of their students in class 1 to 10 to ensure their social networking accounts were deactivated.
But, not all schools are resorting to a complete ban on social networking; Facebook is not to be blamed. The social network has different privacy settings for minors – minors can only share content with friends, friends of those friends, and the network (such as the school they attend) whereas adults can share content with all the Facebook users. The need is to impart information on safe online behaviour and the risks of not doing so.
The principal of St. John’s School, Princess Franklyn has reported a drastic decrease in incidents – where her students used to post details about themselves, school staff and their class mates – after having specialists talk to the students about the dangers involved in such kind of social sharing.
Ever since Facebook dropped its age of joining the network to 13 years from the earlier 18 years, safety of teens on the social networking giant has become a point of contention. Parents and teachers are wary of the social sharing habits of minors, often not knowing much about how to tackle the dangers lurking on the network themselves.
This new guide could be a boon. It could help lay the foundation for developing online safety education programmes in schools.
In fact, this July Facebook had announced its collaboration with Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)to bring Internet Safety Education programs for students between the age group of 13 to 17. The education programs will train children, teachers and parents on how to reap maximum benefits from internet while not compromising on their safety and security. As part of this partnership, Facebook safety specialists will work with IAMAI trainers on safety content and participate in the training programs called ‘Safe Surfing’ that IAMAI has been conducting since the past four years. The long term program also plans to target NGOs working on child safety.
On the collaboration with IAMAI, Ankhi Das, Director of Public Policy at Facebook India, had stressed upon the importance of children’s safety and encouraged the need to talk about it, so we could make smart choices. Based on the belief that safety is an ongoing conversation between everyone who uses the Internet, Ankhi emphasized that Facebook encourages parents to take the lead.
“We encourage parents to have conversations about safety and technology early and often, in the same way that they talk to their kids about being safe at school, in the car, on public transportation or playing sport.”
Indeed, online safety is an ongoing conversation that relates to all of us on the internet and needs to be tackled with knowledge. With Facebook being the largest social network, it gets imperative for it to pave the way towards safe interactions on it for its billion users, and especially the teens.