Friend/Inbox/Tweet Me – Perceived challenges and implications of Social Media

“Friend me on Facebook and I’ll totally confirm” (Dialogue from ‘Sorority Row’ – Hendler, 2009: [00:27:50])

The above dialogue demonstrates how online practices with social networks have become embedded in popular culture and media and how the boundaries of offline and online ties have become blurred (Ellison et al, 2007). As the result of their popularity, new social networks continue to be developed and used by different communities.

The rise of social networking systems such as Facebook and Bebo has attracted increased scrutiny from the press and privacy advocates, primarily focused on the safety of school-aged users (boyd and Ellison, 2008; Rose, 2010). As Davies and Merchant (2009) suggest:

Much of the moral panic around new media focuses on the idea that they distract the attention of children and young people from engaging with print literacy practices and are a causal factor in falling standards in literacy in schools (Davies and Merchant, 2009: 111)

However, there is little evidence to suggest that children’s reading of print has actually declined when using digital technologies (Buckingham, 2002: 8). Boyd (2007) also suggests that a large proportion of adults are panicking and simply do not understand the shifts in terms of the changing communication landscape. Furthermore parents are sometimes anxious about the networks they believe their children are participating within online as well as insecurities about a ‘digital divide’ in knowledge and understanding. They may also have a different ‘mindset’ to how their children view the internet and digital technologies (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006). What is clear is that just like the offline world there are dangers and risks that cannot be completely eliminated (Bryon, 2008). Boyd (2007) also suggests that if a teen is engaged in risky behaviour online then it is typically a sign that they are engaged in risky behaviour offline. She argues that the technology is too often blamed for what it reveals and suggests destroying the technology will not solve the underlying problems that are made visible through mediated spaces like SNS (boyd, 2007: pg5). In contrast Rose (2010) highlights that a common problem with social media such as SNS is that there is the tendency to ‘over-share’ too much information such as their exact location. He suggests that:

Sharing location-based information just means there is another layer of personal information exposed which, in most cases, is not really necessary (Rose, 2010: 810)

Despite this location-based social networks such as Foursquare have seen membership rise significantly in recent months (Beaumont, 2010). Such services allow users to ‘check-in’ at certain locations and gain experience points and badges as well as the title of ‘Mayor’ if they check-in most frequently at a particular venue. This location-based news stream is posted onto the Foursquare website for any user of the SNS to read. This essentially creates an online digital footprint of a user’s offline activities and as Rose (2010) suggests is seen by many as unnecessary. Furthermore there are privacy and indeed offline security concerns since the website can be used to show users current location.

Above: A Screen Capture of a Foursquare Profile showing badges, mayorships and current location

Regardless of privacy concerns from some commentators it is clear that such networks are here to say since other social networks such as Facebook are now integrating location-based services (Richmond, 2010). Davies and Merchant do suggest that real-experiences of Web 2.0 technology within the education system are likely to be more effective than applying blocks, filters and other controls (Davies and Merchant, 2009: 112). Embedding a Web 2.0 system into the everyday practices would allow pupils the opportunity to learn safe practices within online mediated spaces within a real and meaningful context. This was my aim when I introduced @ClassroomTweets as a way of allowing children to learn safe practice within a real online social networks.

EDIT: Foursquare now hides your current location by default – a welcome move.