Tag Archives: internet

High School Facebook Confession Pages: Problem or Symptom?

18 Apr

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Anonymous online confession pages for students are nothing new. Juicycampus launched in 2007 with the goal of enabling “online anonymous free speech on college campuses”. They were joined in 2008 by College ACB.com which peaked with over 900,000 views in a single day in 2010. Even then, these services were controversial as schools tried to ban them because many of the posted confessions hurt the school’s image while proponents promoted their positive benefits. What no one can deny is that the need to share anonymously is deep-seated.

Why Do Students Use Them?

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We’re willing to be more open and honest when we’re assured anonymity and that honesty helps uncover and solve difficult problems. Most adults have at some time read newspaper advice columns where readers anonymously submit problems and an “Agony Aunt” responds with advice so that others with similar problems benefit. Anonymity is an important and useful tool in many situations. Voting is usually done anonymously to allow freedom of expression and governments protect anonymous whistleblowers with legislation. Kids Help Phone encourages teens and children to phone in and share their problems anonymously because this helps teens and children to address problems they can’t in other ways. And police “Tips” phone services assure anonymity as a way of getting people to share others’ misdeeds.

College ACB closed down in October 2011 but anonymous online confession sites didn’t go away. Earlier that summer US college students began using a combination of Facebook pages and anonymous forms such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create school based Facebook Confession Pages.

How Do They Work?

Facebook Confession Pages are simply pages that allow students to anonymously submit their deepest secrets. The moderator of the page posts the confessions on the Facebook page. Students who ‘like’ the page can see each confession and can ‘like’ each confession and comment. The moderators of the page are often unknown to the students, as are the contributors. Here’s a typical example from a school in Hawaii.

The Facebook Confession Page model has caught on and spread. Many US and Canadian Universities have confession pages associated with them and it’s been slowly filtering to high schools and spreading around the world. The pages are free, easy to set up and tap into this deep-seated need teens and young adults have to share what they’re really thinking and feeling without fear of adult sanctions.

What Are The Problems?

While the original intent of Facebook Confession Pages was to offer a forum for students to share problems, concerns and secrets FB Confessions 3that isn’t all students are sharing. The online disinhibition effect, a loosening of social restrictions and inhibitions that would normally be present in social interactions, means that many students want to also use the confessions pages to share stories of alcohol and drug use or sexual behaviour. In some cases the pages lead to cyberbullying or even slander.

These were the problems that schools in Thunder Bay, Ontario were dealing with this week. Facebook Confessions Pages had spread first to Lakehead University and Confederation College in Thunder Bay, and from there passed down into the high schools. Soon, school officials were fretting over stories of student drunkenness and drug use and negative comments about teaching staff. In one case the comments crossed into slander and the teacher concerned complained to Facebook, who took the page down.

Experience in other jurisdictions suggests that taking pages down won’t solve the problem. Pages are easy to set up, and often when one is taken down another pops up right away moderated by a different student. Students jealously guard their adult free space and it’s often only after the fact that educators and parents discover that students are posting in a Confession Page.

FB Confessions 5Schools and school boards that move to shut down pages may find their requests falling on deaf ears. Freedom of expression is an important principle for all citizens, students included. Student stories of drunken escapades may be unpleasant and tarnish a school’s image in the community, but they aren’t illegal. Facebook only seems to be willing to take the pages down when there is clearly something illegal being posted. In some cases they’ve asked that offensive posts be removed while the page stays up.

Facebook is in a difficult position. It has recently been losing relevance with young users, as many of them see Facebook as their parent’s social network, not theirs. Confession Pages, with their ability to make users anonymous, are making Facebook relevant again with the 13-25 year old demographic. They’re not anxious to alienate those users without good reason.

What can educators and parents to do?

One of the values of social media use by teens is it gives us a window into their lives previously unavailable. If what we see is unpleasant an appropriate response is to deal with the problem, not to insist that the widow be closed. Teens expressing depression, issues with body image or alcohol and drug use should concern us all and rather than preventing them from posting about it we should be looking at the behaviour and trying to address it.

Students clearly have a need to post anonymously about their problems, concerns and fears. Schools should embrace the opportunity FB Confessions 4and set up their own “Confessions Pages”, moderated by students but with guidelines. This would allow students to express their concerns and problems safely while giving schools an element of control and providing an important source of information to educators about potential problems in the school.

Confession Pages and their associated problems also highlight the need for greater education about digital citizenship for students. Students sending their deepest, darkest secrets to a public forum to be posted and discussed is alarming. They need to better understand the risks of posting and the permanent and public nature of digital spaces. This starts at an early age with parents talking to children about social media and modelling good online behaviour themselves.

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If Facebook is Out For Teens…What’s In??

23 Mar

We believe that some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook’’ from a Facebook regulatory filing with the SEC, February 2013.

Teens and pre-teens use social media a lot. Recent figures from The Pew Institute’s Survey of Social Media Use suggest that more than 80% of teenagers and young adults are using social media, well above the internet average (67%). A 2010 study suggested that the average teen spend 110 minutes a day on social networks. Increasingly teens are using social media on mobile devices, that’s phones or iPod touches with a wi-fi connection, not sitting at the family’s computer, which makes parental supervision tougher.

But if teens and pre-teens are using social media a lot while deserting Facebook, where are they going?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that most teens continue to use Facebook, just not as much and for specific uses. Facebook is now full of adults. Can a teen really refuse a friend request from their grandparents or their aunts and uncles? In addition Facebook’s privacy record is questionable, which make teens leery. So while teens keep a Facebook account to post safe pictures and Instant Message with their families, they’re using other social media platforms to connect with friends.

Where are they going? Here are 5 of the most popular alternatives:

  1. Instagram: Yup, not just for hipsters to post pictures of their food, the popular photo sharing service is also a popular teen connection social media network. It allows teens a forum to share pictures taken with mobile devices and they can chat with their friends. Proper use of the privacy setting can make it feel private. Instagram is becoming the preferred platform for tweens, those under 13 year olds who are ‘officially’ excluded from most social networks.
  2. Snapchat: Launched in September 2011 and developed by 4 students from Stanford, Snapchat is a photo messaging app that allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a list of friends. Senders determine how long messages can be viewed, up to 10 seconds, after which they are deleted from the recipient’s device and the company’s servers. The recipient list and the time limit make teens feel safer when posting pictures, but Snapchat insist that this is no guarantee of privacy, as many teens have discovered.
  3. Kik Messenger: Kik Messenger is a free mobile app that allows user to send and receive unlimited messages over wi-fi and cellular, bypassing a phone’s traditional text service. Being able to send and receive unlimited messages without charges is a boon for chatty teens. It also means that parents are less likely to know how much messaging is actually happening. Since a Kik account isn’t attached to a physical phone number, it’s more anonymous. It could be a fictitious username or a string of numbers and can be easily changed if needed. Users can also hold multiple accounts. All of this adds to a greater feeling of privacy for teens.
  4. Twitter: Over the past two years the number of 12-17 years olds on Twitter has doubled from 8% to 16%. Teens like twitter because they can be more anonymous. They don’t need to show their real name, can hold multiple accounts with various identities and can change their handle or account easily. They can also use simple privacy settings to protect tweets and send what amounts to a ‘group text’. Add to that being able to follow The Biebs and you can see the appeal 🙂
  5. Pheed: Pheed is a platform for sharing user-created content such as text, pictures, sound, video, and live broadcasts. Users subscribe to other’s channels and view uploaded content in real-time. They can ‘love’ or ‘heartache’ content, hashtag it and provide ‘pheedback,’ as well as share content from others. Pheed is popularized by endorsements from celebrities (Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, et al) who use it as a way to promote their content (MySpace anyone?). A huge advantage for Pheed users is they retain control of their uploaded content, unlike Facebook, and no one is allowed to use it or edit it without permission. Users also have the option to charge for their content, which Pheed hopes means the content is of higher quality.

The movement of teens and tweens away from Facebook is fueled by privacy concerns. They are gravitating towards services that will allow them develop a separate identity and connect with others on their own terms. Some of the social media platforms outlines above address some of those concerns, but don’t change the basic fact of social media. Teen users need to understand that the internet is always public all the time. There might be the appearance of privacy but that is an illusion and users must always assume that anything they post can be shared. Parents and educators need to help helps teens understand that the internet is public and never forgets .

Why Teaching Digital Citizenship Doesn’t Work

8 Feb

Spend time with children and you learn that lists of rules don’t work well. Kids are too smart and love to find loopholes. No matter how long you spend crafting a list that covers all scenarios a 5-year-old will bite someone and point out that you didn’t say he couldn’t.

A better approach is positive general principles. Tell students what you want them to do. My favorite model is the four Tribes agreements that are displayed prominently in my class and discussed and practiced every day:

  1. Attentive Listening– Pay close attention to what others are saying. Check for understanding
  2. Appreciation Only– Treat each other kindly, don’t use put-downs.
  3. Right to Pass– Choose when and how much you participate. It’s acceptable to simply observe.
  4. Mutual Respect– Affirm the value and uniqueness of everyone.

These agreements cover most situations, describe behavior in positive terms and support the development of critical thinking skills.

This approach works better than long lists of rules, and so I’m confused by the common approach to encouraging good Digital Citizenship. Further, the concept of separate rules for digital behavior is quite flawed.

Digital Citizenship is often promoted by listing the many things students cannot or should not do. Schools require students to sign ‘Acceptable User Agreements’ with long lists of rules such as:

Students may not

  • Use illegal downloads
  • Post name, address, telephone number, etc. without permission
  • Contact strangers on the Internet
  • By-pass digital security systems
  • Access unapproved websites
  • Post inaccurate or harmful information
  • Use digital technologies in an unhealthy manner (e.g. game addiction, loud music, etc.,)
  • And so on…

Such lists are too narrow, quickly become outdated and don’t allow students to think critically.

More importantly the whole concept of digital citizenship is backwards. Students who behave inappropriately in digital spaces misinterpret the digital space as private, when it is, of course, public. This misunderstanding leads students to believe that the regular rules of public behavior don’t apply in digital space, and so they behave in ways online that they never would in public. The fundamental error is in thinking that digital spaces are different, with different rules from the real world. They aren’t.

Lists of ‘rules’ for online behavior reinforce the misconception that online and real life is different.  We must help students understand that social media, texting, etc. are public spaces and the same rules that apply in other public spaces also apply there.

The Brampton 9 students wouldn’t insult their teachers over the PA system at school. Students wouldn’t engage in many of the negative online behaviors that they do if they understood that they are sharing with the whole world, not just their friends. They don’t need a new set of rules, just to apply the rules they already know to their digital behavior.

We need to stop teaching Digital Citizenship with long lists of rules and instead reinforce basic Citizenship. Provide students with a set of positively framed principles to apply to all situations, digital and analog. Students don’t need more rules; they just need to apply the ones they’ve already got. The same ones they learned in kindergarten.

Digital Citizenship, Free Speech and “The Brampton 9”

24 Nov

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On Wednesday Ontario education was dragged in the shifting debate over students, privacy, free speech and the internet.

Nine students in Brampton, Ontario were told to stay home after The Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board found out they’d “used Twitter to make inappropriate comments about teachers” the previous weekend.

This is just the latest incident in a growing trend, as educators try to navigate the minefield that students and social media has become.

Some examples:

There are lots of new issues to consider. Here are three key ones:

1) Digital Citizenship: What responsibility do schools have to educate and prepare students for the “digital future” and how best do we do that?

Many students, used to texting, are missing the shift required when using social media. It’s easy to think that messages on twitter are part of a private conversation, when they aren’t. We need to help students understand that online communication is public and that means a different set of standards and expectations from private.

The consequences of not understanding this are significantly more than a few days suspension. People are increasingly judged personally and professionally by their digital footprint, losing jobs due to “inappropriate use of social media“, prevented from getting jobs because of past ‘digital mistakes’, or losing relationships. We need to help students understand this.

2) Free Speech: Can schools really restrict student’s free expression outside school? Should they?

In the Brampton case the comments and threats were seen as cyberbullying and so fit under the school’s responsibility to prevent such behaviour. But does it stop there? What about when a student makes statements that oppose the school or are controversial? What if students at a Catholic school tweet in support of abortion or anti-religious views? What then? What if a student’s online behaviour reflects badly on the school, but doesn’t involve the school in any way? If a student appropriately expresses support for an unpopular position does the school need to respond?

3) Deeper Causes: What does this all mean in the bigger picture?

Dana Boyd has pointed out that none of this behaviour is new. Students have “trashed” teachers and fantasized about blowing up the school for generations. The difference is that their conversations are now happening in social media, where it is recorded and displayed.

We have a window into students’ thoughts, attitudes and emotions about teachers and schools. What do we do with that? Do we ‘shoot the messenger’ and try to suppress those views? Or do we take advantage of it and ask the harder questions?

Why were these students so angry with/about their teachers? What does that mean? Will we listen when students have things to say that we don’t agree with or want to ask difficult questions? Will we honor their right to express their views while recognizing that they aren’t adults and will make many mistakes?

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

The Final Days of the World Wide Web

21 Mar

 

The Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick is often funny and good. Chris recently interviewed Baratunde Thurston Director of Digital for The Onion, a very bright, articulate guy.

Thurston and Hardwick were discussing on-line content and the discussion strayed into digital convergence. Soon, all content will be accessible through all platforms. We’ll watch Seinfeld re-runs on our phones and check Facebook on 50″ HD plasma screens (you’re going to need a better profile picture). Thurston said he expects this to happen in the next 5-15 years.

That’s when it hit me. These are the final days of the World Wide Web. The end of the internet as we’ve known it. A place of different values and ideals, a place “other” than the mainstream. The end of the internet as something cool.

Watchers of internet culture have been predicting this for years. Back in 1997 Wired magazine told readers to “Kiss Your Browser Goodbye” and get ready for ‘…media that steers you…’. Sounds dystopian.  In 2010 Chris Anderson declared “The Web is Dead” and wrote about about a future dominated by “…semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport …” better known as apps. Apps restrict user freedom by offering a limited range of options. They’re popular with passive consumers of information because they’re simple and easy to use.

Think back to something or someone you thought was cool. It doesn’t matter what, because, while ‘the cool thing’ is different for everyone the experience is the same. You thought this thing was cool. It was different and unusual and no one else knew about it or “got” it. It made you feel special to know about it and you got a charge from introducing others to it.

But over time, that thing you loved got sucked into the mainstream. When it did, it stopped being cool. Sometimes you hear a song you loved playing in the supermarket (ugh) or on “Glee” (shudder) and it makes you feel a little sick. That’s cultural co-option and it happens to all parts of our culture, even the internet part.

Soon the internet will be just another channel on everyone’s TV, just another app on a device, just another pipeline for delivering mass produced content. It will be commercialized, marketed and reduced to the lowest common denominator. That’s what happens when a culture springs up with values and practices outside the dominant culture.  It happens to all sub-cultures and it’s happening to the internet. It’s always been happening, but co-option is nearing the final stages of assimilation (cue the Cybermen). Very soon the internet will stop being cool and start being ordinary.

Don’t despair. It’ll be interesting and informative to see how this plays out . There’s nothing we can do to change things, there’s no way to ‘Save the World Wide Web’.

Put on a life jacket, pull up a deck chair, listen to the band, sip a cocktail and watch how things unfold. Keep scanning the horizon. There’ll be another ship along soon. There always is.