Image: Natalie Martinez of NBC 5 Chicago and me after my interview about Facebook and freedom of speech. Yesterday, I made my TV debut as a spokesperson for Social Media Club [SMC] Chicago. Thanks to Natalie for tracking down Social Media Club on Facebook and leaving a message with Kristie Wells, SMC's co-founder. Kristie sent me an email and I met up with Natalie in Greektown for an interview sparked by a local student whose Facebook activities resulted in a school suspension.
Although my role in the interview to comment on behalf of SMC Chicago, I also represented parents, students and school communicators. As the mother of a high school freshman and senior as well as a college junior, I know how much social media impacts their lives and ours as a family. I'm a former school PR consultant who crafted our district's first email newsletter and won an award for my volunteer efforts in getting our referendum passed. So, I can see all sides of this story.
The story: Student doesn't like teacher. Student sets up Facebook fan page or group. Friends join. People comment. School finds out [or not]. Student takes site down and apologizes [or not]. School suspends student. Freedom of speech discussed. Parents threaten to sue [or not]. Parents ask to have incident expunged from school records. School removes records [or not]. Google keeps all mentions indexed. Anyone can access the story. Story follows student and school forever. Search engines don't expunge records. They index pages and display results.
It's unfortunate, yet predictable and will happen again tomorrow.
Because this is an issue that demands attention, here's some, hopefully, helpful advice for parents, students and schools about how to manage and monitor Facebook and social media. This is post is meant to be a conversation starter. Thanks for adding your ideas or tips in the comment box.
Social Media Advice for Parents
In the Chicago area? In June, I'll be teaching a class about how to keep peace in the family statusphere at College of DuPage. Thanks to the college for coming up with the idea and for asking me to develop a course that's still in the formative stages.
1. Monitor Updates
Decide, as a family, how much you'll monitor your children's activity online. Some parents are completely ignorant, by choice, of their children's activity. Others require their children to be their friends on Facebook and check their postings daily, but don't know what's being said on chat and IM. The most vigilant parents install online monitoring software that records everything typed and everywhere visited. This can be a secret or not.
Note: I hesitate to recommend this as I don't monitor everything my own children do online. How do you monitor your children's activity online?
When I set up my Facebook profile, I chose not to ask my children to be my friends. When they asked me to be their friend the first time, I waited. After they kept asking me in person, I accepted their Facebook friend request. For me, it was more about protecting their privacy than monitoring what they do. I've always been sort of a "free-range" parent who lets my children manage their own homework assignments, activities, friendships and life. I do check in on them online and request that they use appropriate language, but that's about it. Two of them follow me on twitter and one uses twitter's direct message service as their preferred communications channel with me.
Should you install monitoring software?
It comes down to trust. Do you trust them? Will they trust you if you secretly monitor them and then report on your findings? How concerned are you about their safety? Who would you share your own online records with?
2. Measuring Mentions
Google your child's name and see what comes up. The more common their name, the less likely any credibility issues will pop up on page one.
Now, add in your school, town, their activities and take a look. Rerun the search and this time click on images in the search bar. Do the same with their best friends.
Search for them on Facebook and other social networking sites by given name and nicknames. Where do they come up? How are they seen?
Share with your children or ask them to sit beside you while you search together. Attempt to be an objective observer.
3. Own Their Names
Buy a domain name for your child when they enter high school. Having a www.mynameis.com URL means they own their website online. The site can redirect to their LinkedIn profile or their Posterous blog later on.
4. Screen Content
"Watch what you say at home. Little pitchers have big ears."
That's the first bit of wisdom I got from a very savvy mom who welcomed me into the pre-school carpool. She was right, the diminutive dynamos shared everything that was happening at home from the car seats. Now, they share everything anywhere they want with everybody. And, then, everybody can share it with everybody else.
That's why it's important to talk with your children about what is and is okay to share online, especially when it comes to sensitive or private information. Contemplating a move, but don't want the neighbors to know? Ask your children to keep the information in-house or at home and offline. Have big news? Talk with your children about how to share it online.
Set up boundaries that make it clear about what's off limits. After I got this tweet during a conference "Hi Mom! I didn't know you were downtown. Can I have some money for concert tickets? :)" we had a talk about how to talk to Mom on social networks, especially during business hours. 🙂
5. Checkup Regularly
Set up times to talk about what's going on in their statusphere.
What's cracking them up? What's interesting? What groups do they belong to and why? What's going on with your friends? This last one is surprising, isn't it? I think so, too. But, kids like to talk about their parents and where better than, you guessed it - Facebook.
Students Guide to Social Media, 5 Short Ones
1. Be. You have the power to build something really incredible. Just do it.
2. Do. Everything you type can be searched and used for or against you. Your digital footprint is permanent. What you say is who you are.
3. Reveal. Everybody is watching, maybe not right now, but they will be. Will they see the person you want them to see?
4. Respect. Only type what you would say to that person's face. Because . . . they will see it and show it to other people. Or, their mom might call your mom. Or, their friends will come after you. Or . . . . well, you know.
5. Lead. Who you hang out with online reflects on who you are in real life. Join up, hang out or start with people who share your values. Follow people you like and respect.
School Rules and Social Media
1. Expect and welcome criticism.
Yes, you read that right. Wait - you want to know - did she really win an award for school PR? The reason the team won is because we overcame the opposition and won a referendum. When people were unhappy, we listened and answered. As a school PR consultant, part of my job was to act as a listening device for the school in social places. People felt comfortable expressing their opinions anonymously. Today, social media offers public places to ask question, listen and comment. Find them and respond, especially if the comments are on your own site.
2. Set the example.
Get that Facebook group up and running - now. And, while you're at it, add one for parents, one for band, sports, art, drama - etc. If you don't the students will. They're already there? Great! Now, join their groups and comment. Uh . . . what about legal and separation? You'll have to ask them about that. Maybe what you need is . . .
3. Grounds and Guidelines
Search this social media policy database for examples of how companies manage social media.
4. Be Aware of Freedom of Speech
Can you really suspend a student for making a comment outside of the school? Determine what you can and can't do - legally - in any situations that will come up. Suspending a student may prompt a lawsuit. What do you think? Is keeping the issue a private matter between the student, the family and the school personnel involved a better idea?
From ACLU of Illinois
American Civil Liberties Union spokesman Ed Yohnka said the organization has seen a growing trend of school officials trying to extend the scope of their authority into students' homes. Often, officials base such punishment on the vague principle of "causing a disruption to school activities," he said.
"Absent of some kind of threat, it's not clear what authority a school district has to punish a student using his own resources, in his own home and on his own time," he said.
5. Do what you do best - teach.
Educate students, parents, staff and the community about social media. Set standards as a community leader by holding information sessions, developing a social media strategy and contributing to developing a social media-based community in your district. Need help with that? I'm here for you: 630.942.9542 or corywestmedia @gmail.com
What do you think? Thanks for contributing your thoughts by sharing them in the comment box.