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Why Educators Must Teach Students Social Media Etiquette

Students may bring social media experience to school, but they still have a lot to learn.

by / January 24, 2016

Kids are funny, but adults are funnier. I was an early adopter of Facebook -- I was so excited for an interface where I could virtually connect with friends all over the world given that I moved 16 times before I landed in Nashville 22 years ago. And as it turns out, I was not a great letter-writer. As you could guess, I fell out of touch with many friends from other parts of the country. But when I logged onto Facebook, I found all of my long-lost friends. Who knew social media would take off as quickly as it did?

We were so excited to have a way to connect with other people in real time from the comfort of our homes that we may have been a little overzealous in our postings. Eventually, we saw people share shockingly personal information from the privacy and security of their homes, not realizing that folks all over the Internet could see it. This gave rise to privacy settings, blocking and eventually the social media norms we have today.

In the education realm, students are coming to school with social media experience. They are following people on Twitter, Snapchat, Vine or other popular social medial tools, yet they have had little -- if any -- training on what is appropriate to post. During my time as a school district administrator, I was once forwarded a YouTube video of some students -- they were dancing what was then a popular dance, and in the end, stripped down to masks and their underclothes. Now, this was a popular dance seen all over the Internet, and our students just wanted to be part of the social frenzy. But their offense was twofold: First, they were on a school bus without permission filming themselves in their underclothes, and second, they didn’t seek permission of all dancers to post the video on social media.

Even though our policy allowed for the students to be expelled from school, the principal and I decided to use this as a teachable moment. The students were called into the office, and we explained that what they did was inappropriate. Because they had seen other people posting similar videos on the Internet, they were astonished that they had broken any rules -- except for the school bus usage.

As educators, we are obligated to make sure students know the proper way to engage with social media. We must incorporate norms for social media in our language arts or special courses. We have a social obligation to teach them right from wrong as it relates to posting on the Internet, especially because few people actually apply filters before posting. We also need to mentor young adults entering their professional career and help them realize that posting pictures online of drinking and parties may not benefit them in the long run. If they are determined to post such pictures, then we need to help them better understand privacy settings so that the pictures can’t be viewed by wide audiences. Social media is a wonderful tool, but it's one that requires great social responsibility before using.

Kecia Ray Contributing Writer

Kecia leads the Center for Digital Education's efforts to bring together thought leaders in education. She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and lives in the Greater Nashville area with her husband Dr. Clark Ray and their son Wes. 

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