Are We Failing To Properly Educate Our Students About Social Media?

Written by Mike on August 25, 2009

As colleges and universities, I think we’ve done a great job embracing social media as a tool to communicate with different groups of people. We’re cranking out Twitter updates, Facebook wall posts and YouTube videos.

Our current and prospective students are as well. They’re chronicling their lives and being social, which is the whole point of web 2.0, right?

One area where I think we aren’t doing as good a job is educating people about how things they post are often visible to everyone and thanks to Google, last forever.

Here’s a quick anecdote I read about this morning.

I live in a rural area of northwestern Pennsylvania. The highlight of every summer is our big county fair. Big name acts perform, animals are displayed, and a good time is had by all. This year, the fair put on a beauty pageant and they crowned their first fair queen Sunday night.

By Monday afternoon, she suddenly and without warning resigned and gave up her crown. Everyone was perplexed – until it was learned an anonymous person sent photos found on, I’m assuming, Facebook, to the local newspaper as well as pageant and fair organizers.

Here’s a quick bit from the Meadville Tribune:

The pictures include two males attempting to bite the clothed chest of a girl who appears to be Kantz. Other photos depict a woman who appears to be Kantz with a young man; some photos seem to indicate a party setting. In one picture the man is gesturing obscenely toward the camera; in another the woman is biting the extended middle finger of a male. Three other photos depict a young woman who appears to be Kantz with others while she holds an unidentifiable drink in her hand.

My question is this: who is responsible for teaching teenagers and college students about how to use these web 2.0 tools responsibly?

Is it high schools? Colleges and universities? Parents? The sites themselves? Everywhere younger people look they’re being asked to share their photos, videos, songs, blogs and more but we aren’t telling them how to do it safely.

Do you include any training in your incoming student / orientation program about these kinds of topics? I wonder how we can best educate our students – not only for their safely and well-being but also as new rules are being set out for groups of students like athletes.