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Developing Social Media Guidelines for Students

Young people are using personal technologies including media technology, cell phones, personal data assistants, and the Internet to communicate with others in the United States and throughout the world. Communication avenues, such as text messaging, chat rooms, and social networking websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, allow youths to easily develop relationships, some with people they have never met in person. One of the things that schools must do is to prevent their students becoming victims in social media warfare.

Social media technology has many potential benefits for youths. It allows young people to communicate with family and friends on a regular basis. This technology also provides opportunities to make rewarding social connections for those teens and pre-teens that have difficulty developing friendships in traditional social settings or because of limited contact with same-aged peers. In addition, regular Internet access allows young people to quickly increase their knowledge on a wide variety of topics.

The explosion in communication tools and avenues does not come without possible risks. Parents and educators are both concerned about how primary and secondary students can be exposed to inappropriate online content, unwanted adult interactions, and bullying from peers. There is also concern over students at all levels revealing too much personally identifiable information (PII) when they use social media. Youths can use electronic media to embarrass, harass, or threaten their peers. Increasing numbers of teens and pre-teens are becoming victims of this new form of violence. Although many different terms, such as cyberbullying, Internet harassment, and Internet bullying, are used to describe this type of violence, electronic aggression is the term that most accurately captures all types of violence that occur electronically. Like traditional forms of youth violence, electronic aggression is associated with emotional distress and conduct problems at school. In fact, recent research suggests that youths who are victimized electronically are also very likely to also be victimized offline [1].

The 2013—2014 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) indicates that 7% of students in Grades 6—12 experienced cyberbullying. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey finds that 15% of high school students (Grades 9—12) were electronically bullied in the past year [2]. More detail on how children can be victimized through social media and other Internet applications is provided in Chapter 11, “Child Victims in Social Media Warfare.”

Writing complex social media use guidelines or policies for young people and giving them a 20-page document of rules that they should follow is a relatively worthless endeavor. All such material must be developed in plain language. Young people need guidance that they can understand and apply. This means that developing, communicating, and implementing social media use policies for a primary or secondary students takes time and patience.

Teaching the behaviors that reflect those policies is far more important than creating a lengthy policy document that is not readable. This all, however, is very worthwhile because the younger people learn about proper and acceptable social media use the better off they will be as they pursue their education and later their careers. The New York City Department of Education published Student Social Media Guidelines in the fall 2013 that are very straightforward and are easily translated into behaviors, including

  • ? Create the digital image you want and align your online image with your goals.
  • ? Your online reputation includes material posted on blogs and mentions on websites.
  • ? Be thoughtful about what you share online and consider how it would appear to others.
  • ? Stand behind your words and always take responsibility for what you post in social media.
  • ? Post responsibly and be mindful of your audience.
  • ? Put your best foot forward and be responsible when acting online.
  • ? Pause before you post and take a few extra minutes to think whether a post will be hurtful or embarrassing.
  • ? Consider the consequences of your online actions.
  • ? Protect yourself and only accept friend requests from people you know.
  • ? Do not to post too many identifying details (such as where you live or your social security number) because revealing that information can be potentially dangerous and compromise your identity.
  • ? Do not share passwords with friends and be sure that computers do not automatically save passwords.
  • ? Adjust your privacy settings appropriately.
  • ? Take threats of cyberbullying seriously.
  • ? De-friend, block, or remove people who send inappropriate content [3].

College and university students need the same type of guidance as well as a bit of parenting on their use of social media. Colleges and universities tend to take the approach of advising students to be cautious when using social media and addressing a number of concerns with social networking sites of which students should be aware. This is especially true when it comes to privacy, and students are reminded to use appropriate privacy settings on social media websites and be cautious about who is added as a friend to a personal site. Students are also cautioned about infringing on the privacy of others, to not post personal information about others that could be embarrassing to them, and to ask permission of those involved in photographs before posting.

A unique challenge that colleges and universities face is dealing with student organizations and the necessity to set strong policies on how those organizations use social media. The social media accounts of student organizations are often monitored to ensure that comments are absent of expletives, obscenity, and vulgarity. Comments threatening in tone or evolving into personal attacks are required to be deleted by account administrators.

College and university faculty, staff, and student employees are required to follow the same laws and rules on social media as they are required to in real life. This includes following the guidelines of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Table 14.1 Social Media Policy Core Elements for Colleges and Universities

• The endorsement of commercial products or services is prohibited unless approved via the Office of Business and Finance in accordance with university policies and procedures.

• Public universities do not endorse one single religious belief and comments on religion are best avoided.

• Endorsing political candidates is not permitted on university social media sites. The use of university resources to support individuals or parties in a political campaign is prohibited.

Athletic related posts must be handled with caution and be mindful of NCAA sanctions and good sportsmanship conduct. University employees are warned that it is best to avoid commentary on athletic related topics other than game outcomes and general comments concerning attending or watching upcoming game and athletic activities. Per NCAA guidelines, employees and university accounts are prohibited from commenting or sharing any information on social media platforms regarding recruiting or the recruitment of specific student-athletes. Inappropriate postings and comments on athletic events and activities, student-athletes, coaches, or the possible recruitment of student-athletes and coaches can have serious implications both for employees involved and for the university [4]. Other core policy elements are shown in Table 14.1.

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