Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

While driving my daughter and her friends to school I overheard them talking about a student in their class who was publicly mentioned by the teacher for not accepting his friend request on Facebook. As a mother I was shocked on several levels: Should a 13-yr-old have a Facebook profile? Why is a teacher trying to friend a minor? But as someone who works in the UX industry, I’m well aware of the ubiquity of social media and the access that kids have to it.

Needless to say, I won’t allow my daughter to sign up on Facebook until it’s easier to establish boundaries.

As I listened to Paul Adams’ excellent talk, Closing the gap between peoples’ online and real life social networks at the Information Architecture Summit in Phoenix this weekend, I flashed back to the conversation I heard between my daughter and her friends. Do kids really understand what it means to be someone’s friend online–that anything they publish will be out there in perpetuity for their friends and their friends’ friends to see?

We learned from Paul’s research that people have multiple groups of “friends,”  from close ties to temporary ties and that most people don’t even use the term “friend” to describe these online connections. Is it clear that people can create groups and that they can post status for a limited audience?  Are we doing enough to educate parents, students and teachers about the importance of privacy settings?

Kids throw stuff out there with little understanding of who will read it. Content is out there for anybody to access, including college admissions directors and employers. When teachers and students friend each other, the boundaries between friend and professional are blurred. Many teachers wouldn’t think about socializing with students offline, but there are some very legitimate reasons why they’d want to be connected with them online. This is where kids live now, and teachers would like to be able to reach them on social media sites with legitimate, school-related content, but they’re unsure about how to proceed.

We in the UX community  understand how to find and navigate the privacy settings of most social media sites, but how sophisticated is a 13-yr-old? We in the design world are ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the effects of putting these tools in the hands of children, but many parents and teaches are still trying to figure this stuff out.

Common Sense Media has done a wonderful job at teaching kids about how to behave positively in a digital world, as well as helping parents figure out the social media landscape and what is available to their children. This New York Times story describes how a California 4th grade teacher uses Common Sense Media curricula to help his students use digital media responsibly. This awareness-raising is welcome and long overdue. I know from personal experience that school communities need these resources, as schools are increasingly expected to solve these problems for children and families–online as well as offline. Schools are in the midst of creating policies to guide teachers and students for what is appropriate online behavior.

It is our responsibility as designers to educate users about the importance of boundaries when joining online communities, and this is a timely opportunity for social media leaders Facebook, Google and Yahoo to create online and  offline public service content to educate school communities. Think about the messaging in alcohol marketing “drink responsibly.” Similarly, we need to help students and teachers “Create boundaries–socialize online responsibly.”