As a former technology teacher, I was responsible for teaching kids about the responsible use of technology. Even though I was teaching at the elementary level, I found out that many of the students had Facebook accounts, even though Facebook states in its policy that it does not allow accounts for anyone under the age of 13. Why is this a policy? A law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has strict rules for the use of the Internet in regards to kids under the age of 13. It prohibits the collection and saving of personal information for the child’s safety.
Some parents don’t listen to this rule and help their kids break the rule. Probably more often, kids go ahead and sign up without parental permission or knowledge. These kids, even teens over 13, (and maybe even some adults!) need to realize a lot of things about Facebook and online safety in general that they may not understand or realize.
First and most important is that anything you post online is PERMANENT. And teens are pretty much known for over sharing personal information, so they likely share and post things that really should never be online. Even if you delete a post or picture, someone already saw it. That same person might share the post right after you posted it. Even more, they could copy and paste and possibly even change the words of the post, but still say you posted it. To top if off, posts and pictures spread very quickly. And once they start, it is hard to stop.
Another big issue is that the Facebook privacy settings are not 100% guaranteed. Sometimes the settings are changed. Most of the time, profile and cover photos are public by default. It is harder than many people think to make your Facebook profile truly a private profile. Yet many parents use this to justify the fact that their child is on Facebook.
Cyberbullying can also be a problem, and it is a well documented problem. However, what many kids may NOT know is that in some states, you can be punished by the school for posts made on Facebook and other social media. Since I taught in Ohio, I know that in that state, students can be punished for off-campus cyberbullying events, if it can be demonstrated that the incident resulted in significant disruption to the education. Many other states have similar rules.
A big thing I tried to stress to my students is that people go to great lengths to try to trick kids online. An older man or woman could create false profiles, with pictures and everything, pretending to be a young, good looking girl or guy. They then strike up a friendship with young kids and teens. The teen is then persuaded to share personal information and details because they are “friends” with this person. They could also be persuaded to share inappropriate pictures and conversations. They decide they’d like to meet each other. Low and behold, at the scheduled meeting, the teen discovers the truth, but now they are at great personal risk with the stranger.
I tried to stress with my students to be careful with everything they post on Facebook or the Internet in general. A way I tried to make it relate to them was to tell them to imagine the Internet as the wall of a huge department store. Everything you post goes up on that wall, including pictures and things you share about yourself. Would you like all the people walking through that store to know or see that about you? Just think about that before you post.