There has been debate over whether or not schools should implement social media policies that ban Facebook. Some educators believe that when used correctly, Facebook and other social media sites can be an effective way to interact and engage with students. The positive use of Facebook is often overshadowed by the serious issues and consequences that can arise out of its misuse.
The following article will outline the main concerns that are faced by schools in allowing their students to use Facebook, and the lengths that have been taken by some schools to ensure that they are upholding their duty of care.
The Facebook Generation
With over 11 million users in Australia, Facebook has become somewhat of a social network phenomenon. It has changed the way people interact and communicate with family, friends, peers and even people who they have never physically met.
Controlling and managing students on Facebook has become increasingly difficult with students continually able to access and log on to Facebook through mobile devices. With the click of a button students have access to a plethora of information.
There are many reasons why schools do not encourage or endorse the use of Facebook by their students.
- students not implementing or understanding privacy settings making them vulnerable to online predators;
- interference with learning and education; and
- most significantly, cyber bullying.
The concern is that many students do not understand the consequence that can arise from misusing Facebook and the concept of the electronic footprint.
While bullying has always been an issue in Australian schools, cyber bullying has heightened this problem. Cyber bullying has been said to be more malicious and damaging because it means that there are fewer areas of a victim’s life that bullies cannot penetrate.1 Schools are finding it difficult to navigate the duty of care they owe to students when bullying is taking place at home as much as it does in school.
Duty of Care
Schools owe a non-delegable duty of care to their students. It cannot simply be said that the school’s duty ends when the school bell rings at the start and end of the school day. In order to provide a safe learning environment most schools in Australia have banned Facebook by blocking access to it at school. The problem with this is that students can access it by other means such as logging on through mobile devices or logging on to websites that allow them to out-maneuver the school’s proxy servers.
While it is common that a school will block Facebook and other social networking sites, some schools have taken more drastic measures in a bid to reduce cyber bullying and protect the overall welfare of its students.
Earlier this year a Queensland Primary School banned all students under the age of 13 from having a Facebook account and threatened to expel students who would not delete their Facebook accounts.
Facebook requires that you be 13 years of age to create an account. However, this had not stopped users, including students at the school younger than thirteen, misrepresenting their age to create an account.
One of the reasons the principal of this school chose to implement this rule was to reduce the cyber bullying that was occurring in older grades. The principal also commented that the reason the allowable age for Facebook in Australia was 13 was because “there is an assumption that by that age children will have been taught (and understand) the implications of using social media.”
A Victorian school has implemented a trial, blocking Facebook on the laptops of year 7 and 8 students at school, as well as home, to improve the productivity of their students. The school has implemented this by filtering websites for dangerous material and blocking all social networking sites. The aim of the trial is to reduce the amount of time that young people are spending on social networking sites.
A more drastic approach has seen students fined for Facebook use. A prestigious, Jewish, all girls’ school in Brooklyn, New York implemented a blanket ban and introduced fines to any student who used a social networking site, in order to protect the safety of their students.
While the above approaches may be effective in reducing Facebook use during school hours it would be difficult to enforce and monitor usage outside of school. The stricter rules regarding Facebook usage are targeted at younger users. With Facebook being more accessible than ever it is important that schools consider implementing other strategies such as policies and educating their students and not simply rely on banning Facebook to ensure the wellbeing and safety of their students.
Social Media Policies
Social media policies need to be implemented in schools, because they set out guidelines and expectations for students (and their parents). When implementing or revising a policy it may also be necessary to revisit staff social media policies.
It is important that these policies:
- Outline what, if any, use of social media sites is acceptable;
- The penalties that may apply if the social media policy is breached;
- Outline the responsibilities of staff, students and parents in upholding the social media policy; and
- Have relevant policy review dates and provide for in-servicing staff and students over time.
Education and Awareness Training
It is important that students, staff and parents are aware of the consequences that can arise out of misusing Facebook and other social networking sites.
In order to raise awareness and facilitate understanding of the relevant school policies, schools should be prepared to provide:
- training to staff on how to deal with social media indiscretions of students and manage their own behaviour online;
- education to students on what the school policy contains and the standard of behaviour expected and required of them; and
- information to parents about the school’s approach to managing social media at school and what parents can do to ensure their children are not suffering from cyber bullying or other adverse effects of social media at home.
It is very important for schools to have an appropriate stance on social media in order to fulfill their duty of care requirements, protect students and staff and further, protect the reputation of the school.
In reality it will be very difficult to enforce a ban on students using Facebook and other social media sites at home. However, schools may implement other strategies to confront social media use, such as: effective social media policies, education for students, staff and even parents on appropriate and expected use of social media sites.
With a comprehensive, common sense approach, schools should find themselves well-equipped to deal with the modern challenges of the Digital Age.