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Blocking social media may have negative effect on online safety

A new government-sponsored report released on Friday suggests that the practice of blocking young people's access to social networking sites may actually do more harm than good, resulting in a missed opportunity to teach online safety. The argument came in the report of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group entitled "Youth Safety on a Living Internet".

The use of social networks by teens and pre-teens has provoked a spirited debate among child safety advocates, parents and educators following a number of high-profile incidents of cyberbullying and sexting. Just a few weeks ago, the principal of a New Jersey school made headlines after he sent a letter to parents questioning the need for any child at the school to join a social networking site.

The Youth Safety report now suggests that there is a growing consensus among Internet-safety experts that blocking social media may have a negative effect on student safety. "In order to teach Internet safety in school, we have to teach it in context," said Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use. "If we have these major barriers of getting Web 2.0 technologies into schools, then we're not going to be able to teach these skills in the context of learning."

The report also suggests that much of the online safety education that currently takes place is based on incorrect assumptions of risk and involves scare tactics that ultimately have little effect on student behavior. For example, many younger students have been told not to upload pictures or post personal information online, whereas studies have shown that such behavior doesn't necessarily correlate to an increase in victimization.

What's important, says the report, is to make sure that kids avoid behavior that does correlate to increased risk, such as talking about sex online with unknown people.

The title of the report reflects the view that the Internet is a "living thing" – a reflection of a constantly changing humanity and its collective publications, thoughts and behaviors. Because the Internet is increasingly user-driven, an individual's experience with the Internet – whether positive or negative – is largely determined by that person's own online behavior.

As a result, the report suggests that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing children with every aspect of online safety. Rather it requires a comprehensive "toolbox" from which parents, educators, and other safety providers can chose the appropriate instrument as each child develops and their life circumstances change.

The toolbox should include filtering and monitoring software, safety features on connected devices, media ratings, and school and government policy. However, safety solutions should be fact-based, not fear-based and we need to stress to kids that they themselves have an important role to play in improving their own online safety and the safety of their fellow students.

Are attempts to block the use of social networking sites doing more harm than good? Can they be effective tools for teaching online safety?  

Comment by kelly, posted 7/1/2010, 1:31 PM:

as a follow up to my previous post Facebook is a huge application with a number of amazing uses that can be applied to business. Palo Alto has written a practical guide to how to safely allow Facebook to be used in the workplace while still protecting the security of your business. The white paper http://bit.ly/brno0T is really interesting and will allow you to understand that there is utility to Facebook and that it can be an excellent medium for business.
Comment by kelly, posted 6/28/2010, 7:50 AM:

I am thrilled with the use of social media. I have been following the debate closely. The balance of productivity and working like employees live is a tricky one with social media. Blog, blog, blog or block, block, block??? I thought this whitepaper had some real teeth - http://bit.ly/d2NZRp
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