Social networking refers to the use of an online service, platform or website that enables users to build social networks among people who share interests, activities, backgrounds or real-life connections.
What is social networking?
Popular social networking sites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and for children, Club Penguin, Poptropica and Moshi Monsters. On social networking sites, users can post information, share photos and videos and/or play games. Online games, like World of Warcraft, also enable direct interaction between players. According to research, over eighty per cent of children in upper primary school report having a social networking page.
The benefits of social networking include being able to stay connected with friends and family. This is particularly beneficial for socially or physically isolated individuals, such as those with a physical disability or those from rural or remote areas. For many children and young people (as well as some adults), social networking is no different to their offline interactions with people.
Online, users can identify who they share information with and what level of information and interaction they have with others. However, they can’t control what their friends might do with their information, which may be shared more broadly than anticipated. For example, friends may copy and share photos from each other’s social networking sites without permission.
Risks of social networking
For students, the risks in using social networking sites include:
- sharing too much information—for example, photos from a party might be okay for close friends to see but can become an issue if shared more widely
- not protecting personal information—account details and location information can be used inappropriately by others to find young people or access their online accounts
- treating online friends as real friends—it’s easy for people to lie online, including those who are seeking children and young people for more than a social relationship.
Managing the risks
Schools can help students manage the risks of social networking by implementing a cybersafety program into their curriculum. This includes:
- Integrating the Cybersmart teacher resources into the school’s ICT or wellbeing curriculum to equip students with critical cybersafety skills and knowledge.
- Resources of particular relevance for teachers are the Cybersmart Units of Work for primary and secondary students, the Tagged video and lesson plans for secondary students, Hector’s World for young students and Cybersmart Access for students with special education needs
- Booking a Cybersmart Challenge activity—Cybersmart Networking for upper primary and lower secondary students will enable them to experience a live, online social networking scenario and to develop strategies to interact safely on social networking sites.
- Booking an Outreach Professional Development workshop for teachers and Internet Safety Awareness presentation for students and parents. These are free to all schools.
- Referring parents to the Guide to Online Safety which is a brief video resource with age-appropriate strategies to help parents keep children and young people safe online.
Students who are particularly vulnerable while social networking include those with social, academic or mental health difficulties. These students may benefit by being referred to student support services, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or the Cybersmart Online Helpline to discuss issues of concern anonymously.
September 23, 2014