Social media has become a cornerstone of the student experience. Although social media offers multiple benefits, it also has introduced new, unprecedented issues that often require intervention from parents and educators. With many students being active on some form of social media, it is essential that educators understand how they can assist their students in being successful in the digital space.
School leaders know all too well that the dangers of the internet can seem formidable and overwhelming for students who create accounts on social media. How can you and your staff ensure their safety and general well-being while online? Here are some key tools and strategies to share with your students to encourage their digital wellness and safety.
1. Teach them to be aware of the impact of what they say and do.
Empower your students to educate themselves on digital citizenship, which is the responsibility one has when using technology and digital platforms. Digital citizenship is all about being kind to one another online, fostering a safe digital environment, engaging in respectful dialogue, and making the effort to live authentically in the digital space.
How kids and teens behave online shapes the digital environment they create for themselves and their network. Social media is interactive and reflective, so negativity is often met with more negativity, but the same is also true of positivity. When you yourself are kind, it inspires others to be kind, too! Youth have the power to build a healthy, positive environment online by treating others with kindness and respect in the digital world. Students’ engagement online is an extension of their real selves and should be treated as such.
2. Encourage them to evaluate the digital content and accounts they interact with regularly.
We control our social media destiny (aka who we follow and who can follow us). There are a few ways students can manage their feed online to be constructive and to reflect their values. Encourage your students on social media to determine what their goals are online so that they can better curate the accounts they follow and engage with.
One of the best resources you can recommend to your students on social media is the blocking feature. All social media accounts give users the option to block accounts (which means no more comments, messages, or content from them) and require approval for follows. It’s also a good idea to suggest that your students check in regularly and evaluate how the accounts they follow make them feel. If a “positive” account’s content makes them feel bad or uncomfortable, it’s time to unfollow them.
3. Remind them not to take everything at face value.
It is important to teach your students digital literacy, which is the ability to effectively navigate, assess, and understand information across all digital platforms. Not only is digital literacy an essential skill for students active on social media, but it is also a necessity in an academic environment when conducting any kind of research online.
Evaluating the credibility of information online is a necessary skill for students, as recent trends favor the rapid spread of sensationalized or false information on social media. It is every user’s responsibility to evaluate the credibility of sources and information they encounter online.
Source credibility check:
- Find the author and see if they are knowledgeable in the field they are writing about and determine if they have any bias on this topic.
- Determine if the information is backed by research rather than opinions and see if it is up to date.
- Assess the quality of the source by looking for grammatical accuracy and proper spelling, as well as information backed by adequate and appropriate sources.
- Find the purpose of the source to understand if it is to provide truthful information or just to garner attention and shock audiences with falsified information.
For more information on digital literacy, see the fact sheet on page 23 that you can share with your students.
Along with fake facts, fake social media accounts are prolific and often target young people online. For example, catfishing relies on misrepresenting oneself and pretending to be someone else online to build a relationship. Apart from catfishing, online scammers profit from the naivete of unsuspecting victims on social media. Scammers engage in manipulative tactics to make money and take information from people online.
Here are a few indicators of a fake account or a scam:
- The account has little history online and seems to have just been created.
- Very few people follow the account.
- Images on their profile or that they send to you appear to be stock photos found online with a quick Google search.
It is best to encourage your students to remain skeptical online and be aware of the common indicators of falsified information, catfishing, and scamming.
4. Ensure they become familiar with social media privacy settings.
Taking advantage of the privacy settings available on most social media sites is vital for your students to stay safe online. TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social media platforms offer options to make accounts private so that the user can control who can follow them and see their content. Along with privacy settings, strong passwords can help protect accounts from hackers.
Strong passwords include:
- Special characters
- Upper and lowercase letters
Passwords that include these elements are much less predictable for anyone trying to hack an account by guessing your login information. Along with a private account, a strong password coupled with two-factor authentication can secure personal information on social media.
Two-factor authentication can be added to social media accounts so that anytime a sign-in attempt is made, a push notification will be sent to a designated number or email. Even after taking great precautions in making social media accounts safe, it is smart to still be very careful when sharing information online.
With the right education and tools, your students can be safe and happy online. Empower them to take measures to create a safe environment on social media and foster healthy digital boundaries. For more information on how to help students stay safe online, check out #ICANHELP’s free online safety course at https://bit.ly/3R2DRPm.
Allie Richmond is a senior at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, and an intern with #ICANHELP. A version of this article previously appeared on the website of the Family Online Safety Institute.