FaceBook 101: Article I submitted to parent magazine at our school


Around the world, people are social networking more than any other pastime on the web, for many it is quite addictive.  A recent technology survey conducted by our IT Department, found that Facebook remains unchallenged as the most popular social network for ISB students, with over 85% of middle and high school students claiming to be members.  MySpace and Hi5, both very popular just a few years ago, each have fallen to below 10% of our students as active members.  The survey also showed that for many, Facebook is a distraction from study.  When off task, it is the distraction of choice for ISB students.

What is Facebook? What are its strengths and what are the downsides? What are we doing about it?

Facebook which started only 6 years ago is a free website used to connect, share and publish information about yourself for friends, family or anyone you choose.  Its exponential growth has been unprecedented.  As of today there are over 400 million active accounts, the average user has over 130 friends, and in worldwide ‘hits’ per day Facebook is second only to Google. In simple terms Facebook is a collection of profiles with personal information about the account owners.  These profiles include photos, status updates (often describing feelings or deepest thoughts), lists of friends, and groups the user has joined. Once an account is created, users control who has access to see their information i.e. just their friends, friends of friends, or everyone.  I would encourage anyone with a Facebook account to have a clear understanding of these privacy settings and to adjust their own settings according to personal privacy preferences.

A popular feature of Facebook is the ability to create groups.  Anyone can create a group and they are usually formed around common interests, hobbies, social connections (students in a particular grade at a school) or background.  The creator of a group can choose to make it public, in which case anyone can join.  Alternatively a group can be made private and available to only a select group (it should be noted the term private in the context of the Internet is a misnomer, nothing online is truly private).  Once you become a member of a group, users can join in on discussions and announcements.  Anytime a user joins a group, a status update will appear showing friends that he or she has joined this particular group.

Tagging photos is another feature commonly used by members of Facebook.   Essentially tagging a photo identifies friends in an uploaded photo linking back to their specific profile page.  Once tagged other friends can see this photo.  If tagged users are notified, and have the option to remove the tag associating them with the photo.

Facebook constantly adds new features and applications.  Any attempt to list all here would be information overload, but the following are some popular features: creating pages, inviting people to events, becoming fans (of anything and everything), playing online games, giving or taking surveys, sharing videos and news stories, and writing on someone’s ‘wall’.

Like most things in life, used in moderation, Facebook has the potential to provide many positive experiences. For many, it offers the enjoyment of connecting with friends, playing online games, and feeling accepted into exclusive social circles.  Facebook also offers a chance to learn some valuable life skills.  Facebook provides a platform for students to express themselves and their feelings, to develop their personal identity, and to share with other like-minded individuals on matters of personal interest. Online friendships can be as important to this generation as our own “real” friendships were to us.   Certainly interacting online is an authentic way for young people to stay connected to their friends.  This is particularly valuable for our transient student population as they move to and from ISB.  Facebook gives students an opportunity to make connections with students in places they are moving to, and maintain the friendships they leave behind. Facebook can have a very positive influence and impact on our students’ lives.

Unfortunately, like anything, misuse of Facebook can have negative fallout.  It’s inevitable that as students develop their identity and find their way in life, mistakes are made.  We can all remember as adolescents making poor judgments, saying silly comments, thinking bad thoughts and blurting out inappropriate jokes.  But never before has an individual’s history been recorded and stored in the detail and with the permanence that it is today.  Photos are now taken (in or out of context) and published online for future admissions officers, employers, partners, children and grandchildren to see.   Groups we join and comments we leave are shared with the world delivering a perception of who we are for the world to see.  How many of us would like the mistakes of our youth to publicly haunt us still today?  Can our students handle this responsibility?  Do they have the maturity to present a positive version of themselves and others?  Do they understand and positively control “who they are online”? There aren’t right or easy answers to the questions, only learning opportunities and worthwhile conversations to have with your children and our students.

The recent student technology survey also highlighted another issue associated with Facebook, that is multitasking.  When working online students often switch rapidly between schoolwork, Facebook and chat.  They believe that they are able to work very effectively doing multiple tasks at the same time. This simply isn’t the case. Research coming out of Stanford University suggests that these multi-tasking teens are in fact more productive and do better work when focused on a single task. The message is clear, stay focused.

At ISB we have been considering the use of Facebook during school instructional hours. We ask ourselves whether the learning opportunities outweigh the often-negative interactions that characterize Facebook use?  After much reflection we’ve come to the belief that the school instructional hours are too valuable to miss learning opportunities to the tempting distractions of Facebook. Additionally, the school day is the prime time to foster “real” friendships and encourage personal social interactions.   During instructional hours our teachers and administrators will enforce appropriate use of our school online resources, to ensure that they are used for the purpose of academics.

Internet Safety Week

Without going into specifics, a recent circumstance gave me reason to pause and consider internet safety at ISKL, prompting a couple of questions:

What are we doing to educate students, teachers and parents?
What can we be doing?

What are we doing to educate students, teachers and parents?

We have a ‘Student Technology Code of Conduct’, each student signs this document, and pretty much won’t see it again… unless they do something wrong. For parents there have been presentations during coffee mornings, but for teachers very little has been done. As Dennis Harter alluded to on his Thinking Allowed blog, ‘Online Safety is for Teachers Too’, web 2.0 technology and sites such as FaceBook and MySpace are making this a real issue.

What can we be doing?

Just as we have an ‘Earth Week’ and a ‘Sun Safety Week’, why not an ‘Internet Safety Week’?
Below I’ve brainstormed a few ideas; I’d be interested to hear from others with suggestions:

  • “Internet Safety Presentation” at a faculty meeting, preferably before the week.
  • Offer an “Internet Safety Evening” for parents. Vikki Davis in her Cool Cat Teacher Blog presents a detailed list of things parents can do: 11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision of your Children
  • A session with students where the ‘Student Technology Code of Conduct’ is discussed in detail and signed.
  • Poster competition
  • Short video competition.
  • Guest speaker, possibly from US Embassy.
  • Article for School Publication
  • Maybe a theme for each day of the week:
    1. Monday – Cyber bullying
    2. Tuesday – Plagiarism
    3. Wednesday – Safe Surfing
    4. Thursday – Protecting your online identity
    5. Friday – Social Networking (FaceBook, MySpace etc.)

I would be really interested to hear what people think of an ‘Internet Safety Week’. When would be a good time? How to keep the focus on Internet Safety after the week has come and gone?

Nelson Muntz in cyber space

Today’s bullies don’t just want your lunch money, they want to trash your reputation.

Yikes this was the first line of an article by Elissa Baxter in ‘The Age Online’ titled: “Cyber intimidation and the art of bullying.” I’d hoped my first foray into the world of blogging would have had a more positive tone, however this article and several similar recent articles piqued my interest:

What is the impact of cyber bullying?

What are we doing in response? What can we do in response?

What can we do legally?

What is the impact of cyber bullying?

In Baxter’s article, she quotes a 16 year old student who was a victim of cyber bullying, using SMS: “One of the things I found so upsetting was that after I had been bullied, home was no longer a refuge….You can be at home or at the shops, anywhere really, and be getting threatening messages. You don’t know where the bully might be so you don’t know if you’re in danger. You really have no idea what’s happening.” To not feel safe in ones own home is shocking to me. Cyberbullying is sneaky and could be considered more insidious than the more traditional form of physical bullying. And who is this bully? The modern bully is no longer the Nelson Muntz character of the Simpsons (Bart’s chief protagonist), as Melanie Epstein noted, “our preliminary research shows that students who bully online are not the same children who bully face-to-face….It’s anonymity that is the key to it – they don’t think they’re going to get caught.” Clearly there seems to be a perception that with anonymity “personal responsibility is diminished, so antisocial things can occur.”

The traditional type of bullying typically occurred between students i.e. both the perpetrator and the victim were students. With cyberbullying this is no longer the case, teachers are often the victims, and with the anonymous nature of these attacks, the perpetrator could be a student, colleague or even a parent. Many of the recent law suites in the states have been education departments defending their staff, the victims of cyberbullying. More often than not, they have been unsuccessful on the grounds of ‘freedom of speech’.

What are we doing in response? What can we do in response?

Clearly cyberbullying is different to traditional bullying, and as such must be handled differently. While the bullying often occurs outside the school, we are not absolved of responsibility. This would be hypocritical since we constantly promote that cyberspace provides an extension to our classrooms. So what can we do:

o Develop a clear and comprehensive ‘Technology Code of Conduct’. Our code includes a paragraph :
The school expects that students will not publish inappropriate materials. Inappropriate publishing includes, but is not limited to, personal attacks, harassment, illegal activities, and publishing private or personal details. This information should not be posted on any network. (I like the wording, but it is not clear that this policy covers infractions both on and OFF campus)
o Raise awareness through a CYBERBULLYING poster campaign around the computer labs. I particularly like a strategy used atWilliam Penn School to tweak a student’s conscience, the IT Director placed a mirror in a lab, bearing the caption “Are you a cyber bully?” with action steps for kids who think they’re victims as well.
o Present the Cyberbullying-Talent Show’ video on assembly, and speak about the associated issues, implications of cyberbullying and consequences for both the victims and perpetrators. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth the 52seconds to watch it.[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/seOQyMvG99w" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
o Educate faculty by speaking at meetings, advocating that we are responsible for ensuring all curriculum areas promote positive peer relationships, communication and social skills.
o Where possible, know when bullying has occurred. This is easier said than done, when students are operating within a ‘Code of Silence’ (or is that Cone of Silence?). We are now trialling monitoring hardware that tracks key words that are associated with cyberbullying.

What can we legally do in response?

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevent created a fascinating multi-media presentation “Administrators Guide to CyberBullying” (about 20 minutes long), while focussing on laws and cases within the US legal system, it looks at students’, teachers’ and school’s legal rights and precedents with regard to CyberBulling. In this presentation, Scott identifies 5 principles:

  • School have an affirmative obligation to protect students and/or employees from harassing, threatening and/or bullying conduct.
  • The default rule is that student speech in schools is protected.
  • Schools may discipline students for out-of-school conduct that substantially interferes with the normal operations of the school.
  • If they have a strong acceptable use policy, schools can regulate student cyberspeech if done during school time and/or using school computers.
  • Schools have more leeway with employees

Malaysian law considers cyberbullying a crime, under Section 211 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998: “No content applications service provider, or other person using a content applications service, shall provide content which is indecent, obscene, false, menacing, or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.”

While I have much to learn about blogging, I guess the best way to start is to jump in head first. I hope this first post promotes discussion about Cyberbullying
and even better some action.

Below are some recent news articles as well as some links to sites addessing the issue:
POKIN AROUND: A real person, a real death
Cyber intimidation and the art of bullying
Cyber Bullying: No Muscles Needed