WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA?
This current generation of young people, referred to as ‘digital natives’, have grown up immersed in technology and interact with it in fundamentally different ways from preceding generations (sometimes referred to as ‘digital immigrants’). As part of this new experience of technology, Australian adolescents increasingly see the digital sphere as an essential part of their social life and interaction with peers.
‘Social media’ is the collective term for the many modern-day technologies designed to connect people online. These technologies are very attractive to young people who want to meet people, keep in touch with friends and share information about themselves, including photos, videos and messages. Because all this information is going onto the internet, it is very important for parents and teachers to understand how these sites work and be aware of both the benefits and risks associated with social media.
Types of social media
There are many types of websites established to support online interactions. These include blogs like Tumblr, video communities such as Youtube, friends-based networking sites like Facebook and virtual worlds such as Second Life.The list below outlines a number of types of social media, along with some of the most popular examples of each. Many of the websites listed are also available as smartphone applications.
A blog is a website made up of entries, also known as ‘posts’. Blog entries are typically made by an individual user. They are often text-based, but may include videos, graphics, and pictures. Entries are displayed in reverse-chronological order, and most blogs allow readers to comment on posts. Popular blogging platforms include:
Online journal sites are similar to blogs. They allow users to share their daily experiences, as well as links, photos, clips and other information that inspires them or is related to their interests. In most of these sites, you can follow users if you find their diary to be of particular interest. Examples of popular online journals include:
Microblogging sites allow users to post short updates to be viewed by their listed friends or by the public, as defined by the user. The updates may be in the form of typed text, pictures, videos, photos or links. The term ‘micro’ is used to differentiate this form of blogging – which uses a limited amount of text for each update – from blogs, which may have an unlimited amount of space for a post. Microblogs function as social media by allowing users to make posts and read the postings made by others. Popular microblogging sites include:
Connection-based networks are sites based on making connections with people the user already knows – typically referred to as ‘friends’, although they may be family members, workmates, acquaintances and so on. Facebook (www.facebook.com), by far the largest connection-based network, is the most popular form of social media in the world. As well as building profiles, users can share links, photos, videos and personal updates. Apart from Facebook, similar networks include:
Social discovery networks
These social networks are based on users sharing their whereabouts with others. They allow people to show others where they are or invite others to join them. Young people should be aware that sharing their location in an online environment might create risks regarding their personal safety.
Online dating sites
Many of these sites are established for adults. Teachers should be aware that there have been instances in which students have found teachers on dating sites and have posed as like-age partners, engaging in relationship-based conversation with their teacher. Here are some of the more popular dating sites:
There are also dating sites that are location-based, usually in smartphone app format. There have been reports by police that, in some instances, people who use these technologies have been subject to personal violence. Examples of these apps include:
Random chat sites
Some social networks have been established for the principal purpose of introducing strangers to one another on a random basis. Many of these sites operate through webcams. While all of these sites pose some risks for young people, Chat Roulette (www.chatroulette.com) is particularly dangerous as it displays a user’s IP address. This means people can find out via Google Maps roughly where the person they are speaking to is communicating from. Other examples of random networks include:
Online learning communities
Learning communities bring like-minded people together to have meaningful peer-to-peer conversations or to share knowledge in order to achieve a learning outcome.
Social bookmarking sites
Social bookmarking sites allow users to add and share links to other online content. Users can organise bookmarks into categories. Education institutions are beginning to use bookmarking as an effective learning tool.
Photo-sharing sites allow users to share images that are of interest to them with other users. Some users share their own images they have taken, while others are sourced from the internet. Most sites allow for the development of user profiles and interest groups. Likes, comments and tagging are popular features of most of these sites.
Some music-sharing sites allow music to be purchased, others enable users to stream music legally for free, while still others breach copyright regulations and allow you to download free music illegally. If you choose the latter option, the download is logged in to the history of your computer through your internet provider and could result in prosecution.
Video-hosting sites have boomed in popularity and are used now for both entertainment and education. Most video-hosting sites allow for the creation of profiles where users can upload and promote their work.
Virtual worlds are online worlds that have been designed to mimic the real world. You can create an avatar or online persona in an online world and meet other people, purchase items and attend lectures. Most things you can do in the real world have been simulated in virtual worlds.
MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games) are played online simultaneously. In these games, you play as a selected character of your choice, but this character does not represent you – it is not your avatar. Popular MMOGs include:
In an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), users create an avatar who plays as the user. These games are played with multiple players simultaneously. Examples of popular MMORPGs include:
Benefits of social media
Social media plays an important role in the communication and social support of young people’s daily lives. They use these sites to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Social media can provide an important platform through which young people who may struggle with communication in an offline context, can remain connected with their friends in an online and in some cases, less intimidating environment.
Not only do social media sites provide a place for people to connect with others, they are also act as a domain for young people to express their creativity. Many young people use these sites to showcase their talents, such as music, writing, video-making and other performance arts. Research of the online activities of adolescent internet users states that 38% of teen internet users share their own creations online such as artwork, photos, stories or videos, and 21% reported taking information they found online, such as images or music and merging it with their own personal creation.
Social media also assists young people to stay connected with the world around them. Many social issues are discussed and debated online which may allow young people to come in contact with different opinions from their own and provide them with the opportunity to think more deeply about ethical and moral debates. In many cases, world news finds its way into social media spaces before it is reported in the media, and many young people use their profiles feeds to keep them abreast of state, national and international breaking news.
When used appropriately, social media can even build learning communities where young people can share schoolwork, discuss schoolwork related challenges and share resources appropriate for their learning.
Risks of social media
Unfortunately, the positive benefits of social media for young people can be circumvented when it is used in anti-social ways. Risks of using media include the following:
- identity theft
- privacy violation
- inappropriate posting
- exposure to age-inappropriate content
- catfishing (when someone create a false online identity in order to deceive others)
- grooming (when an adult contacts a child with the intent of establishing a sexual relationship)
Advice from young people about using social media
Watch the video below to see what young people have to say about the challenges others like them may experience when using social media and where they might go to for help to overcome these challenges. You may like to show the video to your children or students.
- A parent’s guide to online safety, by Marje Monroe and Doug Fodeman
- Born digital: understanding the first generation of digital natives,by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
- ‘Cyber bullying: an old problem in a new guise?’ by Marilyn A Campbell
- Cybersmart website (http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/)
- Using social media in the classroom: a best practice guide, by Megan Poore
Friendly Schools acknowledges the Public Education Endowment Trust (PEET), who provided funding for the Cyber Strong Schools research project on which the Cyberbullying Support section of this website is based.