Every day, students and teachers provide information to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, whether they are chatting with friends or posting pictures from the classroom.
Students and teachers might assume that their data is just broadcasted on their favorite social network and shared with their friends, but what they post often is shared with third-party vendors. To understand how this happens, consider how Facebook manages users’ content.
According to an article on Gizmodo, Facebook doesn’t only collect data from users; it monitors that data to make correlations about who those users are, creating a detailed profile for marketers. In 2014, for example, Facebook attempted to predict the relationship status of some of its users by analyzing their activity, searches and posts.
These correlations matter because they help to build a detailed profile that can be used by third-party vendors. Let’s say Shelly is a Facebook user who recently joined a hiking group, liked a pink dress and has a dog. The next day, an advertisement pops up on her feed for a pink hiking pack for a dog. Shelly clicks on the advertisement and ends up buying the hiking pack. A customized ad seems pretty harmless, but exposing students’ lives online can have more severe consequences.
Tracking Users in the Real World
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat all use facial recognition. A quick scan of a user’s face can either place a fun filter behind them or tag them by name in a photo. The problem with this, according to Gizmodo, is that it makes it possible for social networks to track users in the real world.
If a student’s face appears in the background of a friend’s photo that is tagged at a local playground, that student’s location is now public knowledge. Even when using school-provided technology, posting locations leaves students vulnerable to those who use social media for activities such as cyberbullying, stalking, theft or worse.
How to Keep Students Safe
Schools should have clear policies about what information teachers and students can and can’t share via social media, and can use settings to help enforce these rules.
Minimize profile visibility. Social media settings show what the public can see, and for students, sharing less is more. Be familiar with settings both at the account/user level and for each post or photo.
Disable geotags. A geotag is an electronic tag that uses GPS to add locations to pictures and posts. Disabling this function in social media settings keeps students from accidentally sharing their location.
Check third-party vendor settings. One of the biggest revelations to come out of the recent Facebook scandal is how many third parties Facebook shares data with. Tech staff can limit this by unchecking boxes that give apps and pages the ability to access information.
In addition to protecting students on school-provided technology, schools might consider suggesting, as Net Sanity does, that parents sign a contract with their kids that governs social media use. This contract can lay out rules of use and help ensure that teens are safe online. Social media is a convenient and immediate way to stay connected with family, friends and peers, but for students, safety should come before sharing.