Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are becoming increasingly popular; 41% of the Australian population uses a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.
I am a self confessed Facebook addict. Through FB I have reconnected with old friends and past students I taught, made new friends with like-minded women who have sought me out after seeing me in the media, and received the most beautiful “wall posts” from teen girls I have worked with who have wanted to touch base to tell me how much the day Enlighten spent at their school meant to them.
But I am careful about what I do, and don’t share on line. And I wish more young people were too.
50% of users of social networking sites don’t use any privacy controls. And even when we do use these tools, there is no absolute guarantee that our information cannot be accessed anyway. Back in September The Hack Half Hour, a brilliant ABC television show that explores various elements of youth culture, produced a highly informative episode: “Will you end up regretting what you reveal about yourself online?”This is well worth watching and, coincidentally, features my very clever cousin Tyron who is a professional hacker and strong advocate of exercising caution when on line:
A few key points to note – it is very easy to hack into our profile pages (with or without security settings in place) and even when you delete information and images off MySpace or Facebook – Google still has a record of these.
Apart from the issues around privacy, I have also seen the on-line world turn ugly when people post comments they would probably never be rude enough to make in person. Janice Turner wrote a perceptive piece on this phenomena in the UK Times recently: When hatred comes to your home page.
The following extract from Turner’s article articulates why the on-line world can be a dangerous place for those who are more vulnerable – including our young girls:
…my friend (a psychotherapist) suggested I look at Facebook with a 12-year-old’s eyes. She pointed out the popular “honesty box” application where you ask a question – “What do you really think of me?” etc – which then anyone can answer anonymously. Like a ouija board, evil yet so tantalising. My inner pre-teen came out in a terrified sweat.
Besides, said the psychotherapist, it is the ordinary stuff which devastates her patients, the photos of a sleepover to which you weren’t invited, your best friend ignoring you and chatting on someone else’s “wall”. And everyone will know, by how many friends you have, whether you’re a big, fat loser. It’s not even proper bullying, just crude kidult passive- aggression. But, boy, does it hurt.
Even so, her patients cannot stop themselves logging in. They have to look. And so the mean-girl snubs, the whispering behind hands, follow them home and upstairs into lonely bedrooms.
We think as adults we are tougher, that something as remote and notional as a chat room cannot hurt us. Indeed, it is a blast, a liberation, when talking online to say what you really mean for once, to make mischief, to dispense with uptight British niceness, or even assume the guise of an atavar, a pumped-up, better-hung version of our own weedy workaday self.
In the glow of our screens, safely at home, we think our egos are armour-plated. But there is no protection as we step on to the ten-lane superhighway of a billion heartless strangers. It can smart like hell, that withering rebuke from someone you’ll never meet…”
As valid as the points raised are, I do not think the answer lies in banning social networking sites. Rather, we should be educating users on how to use these responsibly.
As so many teen girls were starting to “find me” on FB I have recently set up an Enlighten Education Facebook Page in the hope that girls will find here a safe place to share ideas and develop a sisterhood connection with other “Enlightened” girls across Australia and New Zealand, and with our team members and assorted fans:
I have established some guidelines for contributions though and will be monitoring the wall posts carefully.
All our words have power and may have long term implications – including those words we use on line.
FB responsibly. 🙂