by Shelley Blundell.
Social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have changed the way people in the 21st Century communicate. This is particularly true for Millennials, who are usually defined as those born after 1983 into the digital communication age. Reporting on statistics gathered by the National School Boards Association; Ramaswami (2010) states that “96 percent of 9- to 17-year old students participate in online social networks.” Interestingly enough, Ramaswami (2010) goes on to state, “[O]f that group, 59 percent use social media to talk about educational topics, and 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork.”
Based on these statistics, it is very interesting, then, that “52 percent of schools block access to and prohibit any use of social media on campus” (Ramaswami, 2010). As Ramaswami (2010) explains, although schools can control questionable content access on social media by the use of Internet filters (see the entry on Internet filtering for more information) and other software tools, many schools cannot afford the software that would make such filtering extendable to social media applications like Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, as both Ramaswami (2010) and Reynard (2013) put forth, many school officials feel that the only way to protect students from viewing content mandated for blocking by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000, is by blocking social media applications on school Internet networks entirely. However, such actions are not helpful or appropriate in an educational environment, believe both Ramaswami (2010) and Reynard (2013). As Ramaswami (2010) discovered, “In an extensive nationwide survey by the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow, 43 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 said that their main way to communicate with friends online was through social networking sites.” In addition to concerns of students viewing inappropriate content on social networks and possibly being the target of cyberstalking or identity thieves (Ramaswami, 2010; Reynard, 2013), it appears that school officials are also concerned about students and teachers being “friends” on social media, particularly in light of evidence regarding teachers who have posted inappropriate comments or messages on students’ social media presences, such as Facebook (Matthews, 2012).
Despite the potential negative ramifications of social media access for young students, there are also numerous benefits to such communication tools, particularly for those who are involved in student media. As Reynard (2013) states, “trying to control social media use is somewhat similar to trying to stop an oncoming train.” As she goes on to explain, although social media applications may be blocked at the school level, blocking usage on school grounds will not stop students from using such applications, particularly outside of school. Rather, Reynard (2013) says, schools should be harnessing the power of social media in a way that encourages educational and responsible use of such applications, and teachers should be educated and empowered to discuss with students ethical and responsible use of social media applications (especially in the age of rampant cyberbullying and other cybercrimes related to social media misuse). Quoting Director of Technology for the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, Missouri, Brad Sandt; Ramaswami (2010) includes: “The majority of students are very tech savvy today, but it’s still our [educators’] responsibility to teach them what information they should not give out online.” This became particularly apparent during the Chardon, Ohio, school shooting on February 27, 2012. Many students at Chardon High School at the time of the shooting were live-Tweeting about what was happening (both accurate and inaccurate information, leading to confusion and panic on a mass scale), and many of those Tweeting named now-convicted shooter T.J. Lane as the shooter before law enforcement were even aware who was behind the shooting. And, as both the nation and the world has become aware, irresponsible use of social media by students was highlighted further during the trial of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond in Steubenville, Ohio, this year, as both texts and Tweets by the pair and their friends were admitted into evidence during the trial of the boys for the rape of a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia at a party in August, 2012, and applied in consideration of their punishment for the crime.
As the discussion above focuses on both the positives and the negatives of social media use in schools and/or by students in general, as well as the arguable error of school officials blocking such applications through school Internet access due to fears of misuse, how might social media usage impact student media? According to Aaron Manfull, director of student media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri, social media applications can be used by student journalists to post breaking news updates for students, and drive traffic to the online presences of student media publications (such as newspapers, yearbooks, etc.)—as Manfull (2009) asserts, such usage could not only increase the readership/viewership of student media, but it can also make such media a viable source for news for school communities (2009). As Manfull (2009) explains, although there is a lot of trepidation around the country regarding social media usage in schools, he believes that such trepidation (and potential misuse) can be eliminated if students are taught how to use social media responsibly, both personally and as representatives of school student media presences. Both Reynard (2013) and Ramaswami (2010) support the use of social media in educational settings, and believe that educators should not only be encouraged to teach students about responsible social media usage, but also to incorporate social media in instructional settings. As Reynard (2013) puts forth, schools can craft social media policies that encourage and promote responsible usage, and as Ramaswami (2010) adds, “digital citizenship” should be both taught in schools, as well as practiced by using such technologies for instructional purposes. As Manfull (2009) states, “allowing students to tap into the social networking world can be quite scary. However, the media is evolving … and we need to evolve with it. Find students you trust. Teach them how to be responsible, just as you have with your printed publication or broadcast. Educate them on the potential and let them take off.”
-. (2013, March 21). Steubenville social media: By the numbers. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2013/03/steubenville-social-media-by-the-numbers/
Flanagan, C., & Kaufmann, T. (2012, February 27). Chardon High School deadly shooting spree: A top trending topic on Twitter. ABC NewsChannel 5. Retrieved from http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/oh_geauga/chardon-high-school-deadly-shooting-spree-a-top-trending-topic-on-twitter
Manfull, A. (2009, January 28). Twitter: What it is and its potential for scholastic media. Journalism Educators Association Digital Media Resources. Retrieved from http://www.jeadigitalmedia.org/2009/01/28/twitter-what-it-is-and-its-potential-for-scholastic-media/
Matthews, K. (2012, April 18). School social media policies: Should teachers and students be Facebook friends? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/should-teachers-and-stude_0_n_1435728.html
Ramaswami, R. (2010). Nothing to LOL about. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, 37, 24-30.
Reynard, R. (2013, March 7). Controlling social media: Current policy trends in K-12 education. Technological Horizons in Education Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/03/07/Controlling-Social-Media-Current-Policy-Trends-in-K12-Edcuation.aspx?sc_lang=en&p=1