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Social Networking A Guide for Youth Work Staff


Community Learning & Development

What is Social Networking? The Web 2.0 generation of the internet brought us Social Networking. Previously, the internet was a place for information, and the internet user went to the internet to find information uploaded by the technical department of the website. Web 2.0 has allowed a new generation of internet use which has facilitated the use of blogging, social networking, you tube and video sharing and this means we no longer need to be a member of the I.T. team which holds the website to be able to upload. This is why News sites manage to offer comments to articles, why sites can offer blogging and why Facebook and Twitter have taken off! The development of social networking sites, where members of the public (plus some celebrities and businesses) sign up to be the ‘owner’ of a page on either Facebook, Twitter or another social networking site (there are around 200 different social networking sites, not including dating sites which are primarily the same idea and format). On these pages the owner can upload content such as blogs, photos, music or video on anything they feel that they want to express. Their authorised (and often unauthorised) friends will be able to look at their content and also comment on the site. Through social networking sites a massive population of the world is connected to each other and, young people especially, network with friends and have an online world to update and view.


Social networking is popular as it allows the site owner to share personal thoughts and opinions and create their own unique online space. The main reason to use social networking sites is to connect with people across the globe. This can be to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, learn about subjects or connect with likeminded people (specific networks for LGBT, music or sports etc, the opportunities are endless). In terms of Young People, social networking may be considered more popular than with other demographics, in fact, in the UK, under 30s account for over half of all UK profiles (over 13 million). Over 5 million under 20s are actively using Facebook regularly. Consider that there is also Twitter and MySpace that currently constitute the 3 major social networking ‘players’ in Britain we have a potential audience of around 7 million under 20s in the UK. For Adults It is safely assumed that the main ‘pull’ of social networking is the ability to connect with people all over the world from your computer. This is massively beneficial as we can reach people that have moved abroad, those we have lost contact with and friends that, for one reason or another, we no longer meet socially. Social networking offers us a virtual medium when we are unable to maintain conventional contact. Of course we are also connected to our ‘local’ and everyday friends through social networking however our dependency on social networking is mainly regarding those out with our normal means. Young people however, are less likely to have many of the friends mentioned above. It is unlikely that they have many friends outwith their normal life and is safe to assume that the vast majority of their contacts are involved in their daily life at school, college etc. The main benefits from Facebook that will be realised by this group are features such as planning events, sharing pictures with each other and online games. We can therefore assume that Facebook and other sites are not necessary to young people in the way they are for adults. What a young person shares on a Monday night could usually be told in person on Tuesday lunchtime.


Why do young people use them? There are several reasons for the popularity of social networking programs for young people, not only those outlined above which apply to all users. • Since the advent of web 2.0, there have been changes in how internet users operate online. The internet can be considered a place for young people to go to, rather than a tool to be used. Online young people meet up, chat, play and work together whereas older generations may still consider it a resource to be used for a particular function and then left alone. • This ‘place’ can be found regardless of external factors. For instance if a young person is grounded, away with family or any other reason is stopping them seeing their friends, the internet provides their social interaction, even if this is not face to face. • Social networking allows young people to develop and maintain their own identity. This is a major aspect of growing up and developing from a child to an adult and can be facilitated through social networking. On these sites, a young person can determine who they are and how they would like to present themselves to the public. • Young people live in a generally structured world. From early morning to mid afternoon they are required to attend school and in addition may play sports or participate in after-school activities. This means that most of their time is structured and they are required to be in attendance with adults. Even at home their activities are controlled by an adult. Social networking allows young people to be involved in an activity which is not structured or influenced by authority figures. • Social networking websites provide gaming such as Farmville and Mafia Wars which is a popular aspect of social networking sites for young people. A unique aspect compared to online gaming sites is that your score or progress is uploaded to your page, thereby ‘bragging’ your skills. It is possible


to challenge friends through games and quizzes, some of which you can create yourself for a personal touch to your gaming. Social networking is here and is unlikely to leave us as a very popular and efficient way of engaging with each other. Therefore it is safe to assume that young people will continue to use this medium for maintaining and starting friendships and relationships. It is important that, as youth work professionals, we utilise this as an engagement tool effectively, maintaining our contact with young people. Social networking sites are blocked by the Council’s internet security systems so to be able to set up a page you will need to do this through discussion with your line manager and the Council’s IT Section. This then protects yourself from accusations that you are using the internet and Midlothian Council’s resources for personal use. It is also important that your line manager knows the existence of your social networking page in case of any future implications that may arise. Authorisation for the use of social networking must be received from your line manager The Council has software and systems in place that monitor and record all Internet usage. Our security systems record (for every user) each Internet site visit and we reserve the right to do so at any time. No employee should have any expectation of privacy as to his or her Internet access.

Protecting Yourself as a Professional In terms of social networking, it is vital that youth workers and professionals in our field firstly protect themselves.


There have been countless cases of ‘accidental’ inappropriateness and some more serious incidents. Remember that, no matter how innocent the incident, these stigmas can stick with you as a professional. Consider how you would feel sending your child to a youth club with a falsely accused member of staff. There would be a strong possibility that you would not allow your child to attend, this is the potential impact! If we consider how many people believe that there is ‘no smoke without fire’ and that people have a stigma for a reason then we can see how this could be a very big issue! There are some definite steps to protecting yourself

• Under no circumstances ‘befriend’ one of your young people on social networking sites, your personal page should not be seen by young people. Should a young person add you as a friend you need to discuss with them that it is not appropriate for you to do so however refer them to a professional page that they can link up with. • Regularly check your security settings and privacy. Many people believe their site is well protected until you check for yourself (by searching for yourself when not logged in). Your site should be completely secure from people accessing your information that you haven’t authorised. • You should also not be linked in to any of the professional sites that you or another professional maintains. This will just encourage young people to cross the line from professional to personal and is not well advised. • Consider what is on your social networking site. Do you want young people that you are working with to see your pictures, posts, friends etc? It is much safer for you and your youth club/organisation to be completely removed from this interaction on a personal level.


If you are maintaining or uploading to a site for Midlothian Council (a youth club group etc.) then you are responsible for what is on that page. You are therefore responsible to protect yourself and Midlothian Council • Do not upload or write anything online as a Midlothian Council representative that would not be agreed with everyone else in your team and the council. For example, during the recent elections, many young people were discussing political parties etc. My personal opinion is not relevant and should not be uploaded, my personal page is for that. All we can do as professionals is give unbiased statements regarding their opinions. Anything referring to our personal thoughts should not appear. Actions like this could be seen as influencing a young person to believe as you do when we should be encouraging their own decision making. • Monitor any uploads to the page which may be offensive or something that causes concern. Anything offensive should also be deleted very quickly from the page and a discussion with the young person conducted as to why. • When inviting young people to ‘be friends’ it is important that you or your site clarify who you are and have a checkable contact. For instance, providing your midlothian.gov.uk email, office address and contact number so a young person or parent may check your identity. • It may also be an idea to have young people ‘sign up’ by filling in a form beforehand (at events etc). This way they have had a previous notice of the site and know they will be approached, helping to verify your identity.


Protecting Young People Currently, there are many issues with young people using and accessing the internet, particularly social networking sites. There are child protection issues and terms like ‘grooming’ are being thrown around as potential pitfalls for young people. You, as a youth work professional, should be aware of the specific dangers that social networking can bring to young people • Grooming Grooming is one of the most important areas of social networking security to be aware of. Grooming is where an adult befriends and establishes an emotional connection with a young person to lower their inhibitions for future child abuse. This can occur through conversations which may not seem inappropriate but develops a trust between the child and the groomer. They may also attempt to befriend the parents so that they trust the groomer. Offers to baby-sit or take the child out are not uncommon. On the internet, child grooming can occur on social networking sites where a groomer will befriend the child (either as themselves or under a fake profile). They will establish a bond by discussing the child’s life and helping with their problems, sharing secrets and intimate information. The abuser will, once feeling they have established trust, encourage feelings of love and sexual conversation, including sexually explicit pictures. Then suggest meeting up. We should be trying to prevent this happening by encouraging young people to be extremely


cautious when receiving friend requests and be cautious when talking to people they have met online. We should be emphasising how easy it is to pretend to be someone else on the internet and that people are projecting how they would like to be seen, not necessarily who they really are. Be aware of young people talking about a new close friend they have met or about photos they have sent or received. • Cyber-Bullying "Cyber-bullying" is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. www.stopcyberbullying.org There are several forms of cyber-bullying, some of which could be seen as ‘kids being kids’ or just pranks and joking around. They are however more serious than that and can cause young people a lot of distress. Some young people see these actions as ‘just a bit of fun’ however, if their actions were conducted face to face they would understand the severity of their actions. Many young people who engage in cyber-bullying are doing so due to the ‘anonymity’ of the act, they feel removed from it because the threats are not spoken. They fail to realise that this is just as hurtful for the young person receiving this abuse. Cyber-bullying includes, but is not limited to, text harassment (sending many abusing messages, either as an individual or a group), stealing passwords and impersonating the victim or locking them out of their own profile by resetting all the preferences, mass sending of inappropriate photos designed to embarrass or hurt the victim in the


photo, signing young people up to mailing lists (pornographic sites) and impersonation to distribute hurtful comments. Not only are the comments and things said damaging to the young people that are victimised but they can lead them in to trouble from parents and schools, even the police. Consider how their parents could react when they see thousands of pornographic emails on their child’s email or if they saw inappropriate photos of them. Also consider the legal implications if their profile is showing inappropriate comments written by an impersonator. • Applications Technology is continuously developing in terms of the internet and communications, there is so much that can potentially be dangerous. One area which is gradually falling into this arena is the iPhone and its applications. These apps are meant to be practical, games for fun and other gadgets which we can all have a joke about with. On the other hand, some of these can be used against young people and are potentially dangerous. There are two particular apps which could be used with devastating effect. One, a facial recognition application that will search the internet and social networking sites to find out all they can about that person and swiftly zap the information to the photographer. All of a sudden the photographer knows how to find and contact that person. Potentially this is very dangerous, especially to children, as all their details have suddenly been exposed to this photographer who could, in reality, be anyone. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article1254537/Facial-recognition-phone-applicationdescribed-stalkers-dream.html


Another dangerous iPhone app allows you to track where your friends are. Basically, you can input a mobile phone number and your application will track where that person is and give you that information. To some extent, this is a good app for parents to use if they are unable to find or locate their child, however think of the stalking potential or of the power that possessive or abusive boy/girlfriends could have over our young people. The iPhone and other Smartphone’s could prove to be very dangerous in the future however some of these dangers are here today through this innovative technology. • Information Sharing We tend to believe that what we discuss with our friends and the information that we chose to upload will remain in one place. The truth however is that once you have uploaded that information, it can be copied, saved externally to the social networking site and viewed by many people that we have not authorised or wanted to see it. Despite privacy settings and security which has been placed on social networking there are websites in existence (currently only in the U.S.) which amalgamates all the information we have uploaded and provides them to anyone for as little as a few dollars! Because of this, we must be careful with the information we upload, and encourage young people to do the same. • Phishing (and Identity Theft) Phishing is a technique used by con artists that will create impostor emails and send them to your email address pretending to be a social networking site, your bank or any other organisation that holds sensitive information about you.


These emails will ask that you enter your details (password etc) while looking like an authentic and trustworthy source. Identity theft can easily occur over the internet, we are all aware of this and protect ourselves accordingly. One thing to consider though is that Facebook allows us to enter the details of our family (who we are related to etc) and many people do so. Most of us use passwords such as mother’s maiden names for banking etc, so ultimately you are detailing your password for all to see. Obviously we are not looking to monitor young people on these social networking sites, we are looking to engage them. We can of course, remain vigilant through these means for any of the forms of abuse detailed above and process this properly according to our child protection guidelines. Youth workers should however be making young people aware of what these dangers are and how to avoid them. Remember that we do not want to make young people afraid of using the internet or social networking however young people do need to know these dangers and how to use these sites safely.

Laurence Reid Strategy & Quality Assurance Officer Community Learning & Development Education & Children’s Services Midlothian Council February 2012


With thanks to Fife Council CLD for the use of their research and policy materials in this guide.

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