ToolKit & Resources – Social Media – Full description
It is best to think of social media as an active digital space, where young people form relationships, identities and communicate and learn from peers. In this sense, just like any other environment, there are both positive and negative behaviours.
What is unique about social media is that this is an environment, or tool, that young people typically know and use more than the adults around them. So, why is it that young people use social media so much? And are they aware of why they are using it?
What we do know is that social media companies often target your attentional biases – collecting information, or data, about your browsing habits – things like how long you look at a certain post, what accounts you follow, the things you like and save.
In the media there is a tendency to view social media as a damaging influence on young people’s lives – distracting them from the ‘real’ world. However, as research emerges it has shown that young people widely don’t perceive the world as ‘online’ and ‘real life’.
Social media changes quickly – the latest meme this month will be old news in just a few weeks.
However, there are a few themes that are more static; international evidence suggests that young people value how easy information is to access on social media, and that they are increasingly turning to social media for health-related information (Swist et al. 2015; Third et al. 2017; Wartella et al. 2016).
We need to understand how young people are using social media if we are going to support the way they interact with health-related social media posts. The best way to do this is to learn from their experience first-hand.
Lots of resources have covered topics such as sexting, or cyberbullying or body image and how to cover these in schools. However, there are some topics that are talked about less, but can really help to understand the way that social media works.
Although young people have reported a real array of positive outcomes of social media, public discourse tends to focus on risk
Fake news is when false or misleading information is presented as real stories or news. Fake news can cause hysteria among the public, and it can seriously damage the reputation of a person or a business. Often the individuals behind posting fake news on social media can benefit financially, through advertising on content which has been viewed many times by many people – also called ‘going viral’. Some social media sites have started putting alerts on fake news – but still a lot does not get flagged. Teaching students how to spot fake news can give them a critical eye so they don’t believe everything they read online.
Cyberbullying is probably a term you are familiar with, where a peer targets another student via texting, social media, or another digital platform. Trolling might be a new term to you; trolling is when individuals intentionally write comments or post material to upset other people online. The content is often offensive, and can cause online arguments and upset, even though the young person may not know who the offensive individual is, or they may be using a fake profile set up specifically to ‘troll’.
The best way for young people, and others, to deal with trolls is to report them to the social media platform, and to not engage with the individual at all – as providing attention to the individual can provoke them into posting further offensive content.
Cookies and your data
You might have seen notices pop up about cookies when you press on some webpages, asking you to accept them. A cookie is a small pocket of data that is generated by a website, and then saved by your web browser. They can be created on any device you use.
What is stored? Information about your preferences such as who you are, what you click on, or how long you spend on different pages or posts.
Why is it stored? Your data is valuable. If companies know what you like, what you’re likely buy, or give your attention then they can target you with adverts that are more likely to tempt you. This is why social media is free –because companies can make a lot of money selling your data.
Is this bad? Well, you aren’t able to get the data back once it has sold. Unless your data is sold as part of a scam, then typically cookies will only serve to show you targeted advertising and content. However, this can be troubling if a young person feels they are becoming hooked on social media, and they are unable to step-away from it. Social media aims to get users to engage with the platforms as much as possible, but if the young person is spending so much time online that it is interfering with other activities in their lives then this could indicate a problem.
Researchers have found that the current curriculum messages about cyberbullying, and putting privacy settings on high, have largely been heard by young people. What is now needed is for us to consider how young people are using social media, rather than trying to control the way they use social media.
Social media presents lots of opportunities to socialise, and create meaningful relationships, it is not appropriate to exclude young people from social media. Like any other environment, different young people will have different vulnerabilities, some young people may be better at spotting exaggerated news stories, or not reacting to trolls.
As a teacher you can become familiar with the fake news, trolling, cookies, and targeted advertising so that you will be able to readdress the knowledge imbalance between young people and the adults around them; you will be able to use our resources to empower young people to be in control when they’re using social media.