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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Long Term Danger of Social Media for Kids

Michael Schmidt, CEO of Google, said some very interesting things in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about long term risks associated with children using social media sites.  I would link you directly to the article on the WSJ website but since their public-facing website is one of the most non-intuitive sites in existence (I guess to inspire you to pay for their member-only website), I can't.  So here is a link to an article from BBC on the interview.

The gist of the interview was that our kids are living in a time when every thing they do online -- every word they write, every picture they post, every website they visit, every song or video they download -- could potentially be recorded and discovered later in life.  Mr. Schmidt theorizes that it may be the case in the future that young people have to legally change their names to hide their digital past from potential employers, future spouses, political rivals, etc.  Interesting idea and probably not that far-fetched.

Whenever we think of risks to kids online, we think of the usual stuff: cyber-bullies, sexual predators, pornography, hate propaganda, etc.  The parents and teachers I talk to on a regular basis don't bring up long term "reputation damage" as a risk they are concerned about.  Maybe they should be.

We've all heard the scenario in the news...a young, new school teacher is denied a job or even fired because of some pictures or video he/she posted online while they were in college.  Many employers who are trying to avoid the HR nightmare of hiring a "train wreck" will surf YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. for social information about a candidate.  Those topless pictures from a party holding a beer in one hand and a bottle of tequila in another are probably not going to help young Jane land that first teaching job.

Let's look at some uncomfortable truths for a are on social media sites, kids make bad decisions sometimes, kids live in the moment, kids often don't consider long-term ramifications of their actions.  On my own Facebook page, I am friends with many of my younger cousins and children of my friends.  I often see collections of pictures or videos they post the day after a big party and am shocked that they would post such compromising content.  Last month, on my Facebook home page I saw a note that my friend's daughter (22 years old) posted pictures in a collection called "Frogfest 2010."  In that collection she had pictures of herself, passed out drunk, in various poses arranged by her friends.  She had obscene things written on her in some pictures, she was stripped nearly naked in others, and the coup de grace was her lying on the ground, topless, covered in her own vomit, with a whiskey bottle in her hand.  And the text below these pictures indicated she was proud of her accomplishments.  One tag was "don't tell me I don't know how to party."  Once those pictures are placed on Facebook, they are the property of the world.  Anyone can download them, post them on other social media sites, e-mail them to friends, etc.  And let's not forget that the pictures probably were taken by cell phones, not cameras (which is another avenue of transfer).  How will these pictures help this girl 3 years from now when she applies for a job as a kindergarten teacher at Virgin Mary Academy?

Think of these bad decisions as STD's (we'll call them social-media transmitted diseases as opposed to sexually transmitted diseases) because they behave much the same way.  A bad decision in a moment of excitement can have damaging, long-term affects on the rest of your child's life.  When your kids are old enough to have cell phones, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts, talk to them and explain the dangers.  They'll still make stupid choices but maybe you can help minimize the damage.

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