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2/7/2009 5:13 AM
 

Blogger Terry Freedman recently posted thoughts on the pros and cons of social networks like Facebook on our TLadvisor blog: http://www.techlearning.com/Blogs/15706

Tech director and author Doug Fodeman of ChildrenOnline.org takes exception (to put it mildly!) Read his comments below.

What do you think? Let's continue the discussion...

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2/7/2009 5:17 AM
 

Terry's blog post:

I'm preparing a talk on the pros and cons of social networking, with some tips on keeping safe. The talk is going to be a group of 6th formers (ie 17-18 year olds). I've been doing my own research to see how many social networks these youngsters belong to, and it turns out to be a modest 2 or 3 on average. Then I made a list of the ones I belong to, and had a bit of a shock.

I currently belong to -- wait for it -- 63 social networks. I say "currently" because I am about to join more, and look at another one without joining it, to see what they have to offer. The reason I don't wish to join the second one is that it's for teenage girls. (I'll come on to why I'd want to look into such a network in a second.)

Of course, it all depends on how you define "social networking". The website What is Social Networking says:

"Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighborhood subdivision, if you will."

That sounds pretty accurate, although I'm inclined to go further. I come from an Economics background, and I quite like the economist's definition of money:

"Money is as money does."

It takes a bit of getting used to at first, but actually it's a succinct version of the observation by Douglas Adams:

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands."

So, applied to social networking: if it looks like a social network and people behave in it as though it were a social network, then it's probably a social network.

On that basis I have lumped together a whole load of applications that enable me to post messages, see other people's messages, comment on those messages, share files and follow or befriend people. In other words, I've included social bookmarking applications, video sharing websites, general social networks like Facebook, specific or focused social networks like Wired Journalists, and what I suppose we might call quasi-social networks like Friends Reunited.

Why is any of this important? Before I go into that, let me just explain why I'd want to look at a teenage girls social network -- and I can assure you that it is not for the sort of reasons you might think! I was reading in an article on social networking in Information Age about the benefits to business of social networking, and it mentioned a site called BeingGirl, maintained by Procter and Gamble. The article states:

"The same technologies can be applied in a marketing capacity. Involving customers and prospects in a community built around products and brands is proving to be a powerful way to maintain loyalty and engagement. 

Procter & Gamble is one notable leader here with its BeingGirl website. The social network provides an environment in which young girls discuss and get answers on many of the awkward topics that arise as they enter their early teenage years, with P&G introducing marketing material for its relevant products at pertinent points."

So I am interested in questions like, does this look like a genuinely useful site for girls? What's the product placement actually like? Is one of the things we should be educating kids about the fact that product placement goes on (including in television programmes)?

I'm coming at this from a number of angles.

Firstly, I see nothing wrong in companies deciding to start a social network in order to engender customer loyalty. Ten years ago I signed up to The Beano website. The Beano is a comic which has been part of the British comic landscape for what seems like forever, and is full of cartoon strips that are so stupid as to be hilarious. Now, the Beano website had all sorts of silly features on it, and it was just a good laugh. And it was an example of product placement.

Another example: I myself started a social networking site called ICT in Education. I stopped promoting it or nurturing it because I felt that it was actually diverting attention from my main website -- although I haven't shut it down because there are nearly 200 members who may be upset if I did so. Given that I often mentioned my articles in discussions where I felt such a reference would be useful to people, that was a vehicle for product placement too.

Secondly, issues like product placement have always been important. Or, to put it more generally, media literacy. Right from the time I started teaching I made it clear to my students that they should always look not just at what is being said, but who is saying it, and what they're not saying. Nothing new about that.

Thirdly, if people find a social networking site like BeingGirl useful and helpful, and the products are good, that's what's known as "good customer service" isn't it?

So what does this have to do with my talk?

Well, it seems to me that a question like "What are the pros and cons of social networks?", and the supplemental question "And how do you keep safe in them?" raise a number of issues. Taking the first one first:

  • The answer will differ according to whom you ask. The advantage of BeingGirl for P & G is, presumably, marketing opportunities and (hopefully) customer loyalty. The advantage for a young girl is the facility for discussing issues and getting advice.

In addition, the answer will depend on:

  • The exact nature of the social network
  • How active it is
  • Who belongs to it
  • What sort of facilities it offers
  • The quality of the information posted on it
  • The quality of the discussions posted on it
  • The quality of the resources that people share on it.

As for the pros and cons of social networking sites in general, for me it's the same as the pros and cons of social networking, ie interacting with other people, per se.

The answer to the second question, about safety, must partly depend on how one defines "safety". Everyone seems to think in terms of sexual predators, but without wishing to denigrate the importance of that in any way, it does strike me as a somewhat narrow definition. What about identity theft? What about safety from economic predators? What about protecting your reputation, or ensuring the "safety" of your future job prospects?

(I was looking at a website this morning on which people can post their stories and articles and earn a share of the advertising revenue. The "small print" says that the site owners reserve the exclusive right to use your work forever, and also to do with it as they like, including chopping it up, featuring it anywhere they like, and so on. Loads of people have posted their stuff on this site, thereby depriving themselves of other sources of income from that work in the future. I hope their earnings from the advertising revenue compensate them for that cost. Shouldn't we be making sure that youngsters are aware of the importance of not selling the family jewellery as it were?)

As for why I belong to so many: it's because they mostly do different things. Where I am a member of two or three that do the same thing, it's because I like to try things out. And, to be honest, I'm active in only about three or four of them. Let's face it: if I were active in all of them I'd be spending at least a day a week socially networking online!

I guess that's one of the big disadvantages of social networking: it can be so time-consuming!

 

New Post
2/7/2009 5:18 AM
 

And Doug's response:

Dear Mr. Freedman,
Noting the subtitle of your article, "pros, cons, and safety aspects of social networking", I looked forward to reading more depth about the many issues facing our children and teens online.

I'm sorry to say it but I was terribly disappointed. I feel that your article not only missed critically important issues facing kids in these environments, but it is misleading to parents and educators who may read it because they are likely to go away with an impression that sites like Facebook or MySpace aren't so bad for their kids to use afterall.

Fewer children and young teens should be using these sites, not more. I've just published an article titled "The Impact of Facebook on Our Students", on the NAIS website (National Association of Independent Schools in the US) at
http://www.nais.org/resources/article.cfm?ItemNumber=151505. It can also be found on our website on the Free Newsletter page.

Not enough people are speaking about the many varied reasons why sites like Facebook are not healthy, safe places for our children to hang out. Older, more sophisticated teens and adults are better prepared to understand and deal with the negative aspects of social networks. Younger teens and children are not. One thing that our research at Children Online has demonstrated for years now is that whatever children are doing online this year, next year they will doing the same thing at a younger age. Just because kids CAN do something online, doesn't mean that it is appropriate or developmentally healthy for them to do so. I invite you, your readers who visit this page, and your editors, to read the article at NAIS about these issues. The article is based on thousands of hours of experience talking to kids about their online experiences, years of conducting anonymous surveys of their online behavior, and nearly 14 years experience working in the area of Internet safety.

Thank you for allowing a dissenting opinion to appear on your site.
Respectfully,
Doug Fodeman
Co-Director, ChildrenOnline.org
Director of Technology, Brookwood School
Posted by: Doug Fodeman, Children Online, LLC. ( Email: | Visit ) at 2/7/2009 6:58 AM

New Post
2/9/2009 6:27 AM
 

The concept of social networking in the k12 school environment is a very attractive idea.  It employs the latest technology (Web 2.0 and Web 3.0) it’s fun and it’s considered “the thing to do”, and most important you can even justify it into most curriculums.  All of this, still does not necessarily make it the appropriate thing to do in a k12 school environment.  Most of us have multiple curriculum objectives and spend hours teaching students the prober behavior on-line and what to post and what not to post.  With social networking sites we tend to encourage students to supply the exact information someone needs to predate on them.  It does not make any difference if the predations is social or economic if the school is supporting the social networking site as part of the curriculum (to have teachers post assignments, give help on assignments, or as a peer review) any of this type of information could be used and in cases has been used by predators.   The sites that do not allow parent to be a view only member are even more of a problem. At least if a parent is a view only member they can have some idea of what is going on with their child.

So do we ban all social networking from the K12 school environment?  The answer of course has to be no.  What we need to find are those sites that allow students to have the benefits of social networking yet reaming safe while under the schools supervision (and also outside school).  You might ask are there such sites available.  Well the answer is yes.  One such site is AfterClass.  AfterClass uses nicknames for students made up of and animal and a color.  All the information ever displayed about a student on the Internet in AfterClass is the student’s nickname (only the teacher has access to the cross-reference list that matches nicknames with students).  This type of system allows students to participate in the pluses of social networking while the student themselves remain anonymous.  While this type of system is not perfect, it does protect the student, teacher and school.

 

Joe Huber

Director of Information Systems

Greenwood Schools

Greenwoosd Indiana

New Post
2/9/2009 6:55 AM
 

This is shaping up to be the most important issue for schools today. Below is a snippit from COSN's upcoming consortium: 

 

The 2009 CoSN International Symposium builds on last year's Symposium, where attendees were provided with a survey of several Web 2.0 learning applications and experts detailed the merits of each. Since that time, additional surveys of U.S. students, show that schools tend to be inhospitable environments for Web 2.0 tools, and that is the driving force for the focus of this year's Symposium. The 2009 session will focus on school policies that stimulate or constrain the effective use of Web 2.0 for learning. The discussion will focus on how to amend these policies, but more importantly will highlight how Web 2.0 can be integrated in a context that reflects an understanding of the new interactive world in which students operate.

Marco Antonio Torres, an Apple Distinguished Educator and education technology director at San Fernando High School in Los Angeles, California, will deliver the opening keynote address on the power of Web 2.0 from a classroom perspective.

Steven Berlin Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You: How Web 2.0 and Popular Culture is Actually Making us Smarter, will deliver closing keynote remarks focused on the title of his best-selling book, and will explore the implications of his thesis for our schools.

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