Social Networks of Note

Today’s Social Networks are essentially all the same. They provide members with a place to interact with others and share photos, thoughts, opinions, play games and essentially waste immense amounts of time. Every once in a while someone will come up with something new and exciting and people will flock to the site and another internet billionaire is born. For the purposes of this blog post we will look at the most common Social Networking sites that kids frequent and provide you (the reader) with a little background on each.

The following is an unscientific, non objective and totally personal evaluation of the most common social networks kids and parents frequent. My opinion of these sites is based on personal experience, anecdotal feedback from students and some actual research so please don’t take my comments as the final word on the Social Network at hand. It has been my experience that kids have been exposed to bullying, sexual exploitation and various levels of personal and professional harm via these social networks.

Although each of these sites, other than Chatroulette have some kind of “Child Safety Policy”, in reality it is next to impossible to enforce these policies unless someone points out a violation to them. Certainly the owners of these sites do not want any harm to come to their users but these policies are more about covering their butts in the event of litigation. Unfortunately as the medium grows and becomes more ubiquitous so do the online shenanigans found on these networks which lead to more and more instances of bullying,  assaults and suicides.

The original Social Networking mega power, Myspace has yielded to Facebook in its influence and popularity in recent years but it still holds a significant share of the Social Networking world with 130million members world wide. It has had a colorful past and continues to provide a Social Networking platform for youth world wide.

My Space’s Child Safety policy:

  • Age to Register is 13 (No way to really control this)
  • All accounts of members 13 – 15 are automatically set to private so outside creepers cannot access your child’s information. (depends on truthful declaration of age)
  • Accounts of those 16 and above have the choice to set their profile to public or private .
  • Members over the age of 18 cannot add friends below the age of 16
  • Measures are in place to prevent known sex offenders from being a My space member (how this is accomplished I do not know)

Facebook is the current king of the cyber sandbox. Teens use this site as a means of communicating and showing their world what they have been up to. I personally love Facebook and find that it is a great tool for connecting with family and friends. It can be however, a cesspool of conflict and questionable behaviour where people flaunt just how foul and inappropriate they can be.

Facebook’s Child Safety policy:

  • Age to Register is 13 (No way to really control this)
  • Information such as photos or status updates are only visible to their friends, friends of friends, and people in any school or work networks they have joined (this is still fairly broad exposure of your child’s info. This also assumes your child enters actual age)
  • Kids under the age of 18 do not have public search listings created for them, so they do not appear in outside search engines, regardless of settings.
  • Reporting of objectionable material and or behavior is encouraged by Facebook and this can be done anonymously.
  • Accounts of those who abuse fellow members will be suspended.

Not overly popular with teens it seems to be more the playground of twenty somethings who are bloggers and or internet marketers. Users are very niche oriented and group together based on a common interest or need. Where as virtually all my students are on Facebook, very few have a twitter account.  Trouble to be found on twitter but it really doesn’t seem to be insidious. There is the odd solicitation by porn sites or Russian born girl looking for a “husband” but I gloss over it all because I am more interested in the tweets of my like minded followers. I really don’t think Twitter is a Social Network of concern.

Twitter’s Child Safety policy:

  • No age requirement
  • Does not really have a “child safety policy”
  • They do readily suspend accounts that they feel violate their rules which include issues around violence and threats.

This website reminds me of my space but somewhat seedier. Users do not seem to care what they put up on their profiles and who sees it. It is this site where most of the incriminating information my students find about themselves can me found. Solace can be found in the fact that most kids do not use this service only 1.5 million users world wide so chances are your child does not use it but if they do… It is not a great neighbourhood to be found in.

Nexopia’s Child Safety policy:

  • Nexopia will not accept accounts from kids below the age of 13. (No way to really control this)
  • For persons between the ages of 13 and 18, parental or guardian consent prior to opening an account. (No way to regulate this)
  • If Nexopia learns that information from a child under the age of 13 has been submitted they will delete that account and information as soon as possible. (Nexopia needs to be informed of the violation. There is no real way to regulate this)

You tube is not really a Social Network in the traditional sense but it is a place where kids gather online. This is a great place to share videos but the problem with You Tube is that kids constantly post material which can be traced back to them in the future. When they are looking for a job, or even tying to get into a post secondary institution, if there name is attached it can be found by people with the power to say “NO”. People have even been fired or thrown out of university for videos they have posted. Kids need to understand that they are messing with their future when they post content online for the world to see and when it is video… The ramifications are life changing.

You Tube’s Child Safety policy:

  • No specified policy other than three lines in “Terms of use”
  • You visit YouTube only if you or over 18 years or have parental/guardian consent and are able to understand these conditions. (No way to control this)
  • You should not use YouTube if you are under 13 years of age. (No real controls over this age limit)
  • Users are not to submit any material which is obscene, defamatory or otherwise objectionable, or unlawful. (Happens all the time)

Chatroulette – Perhaps the most recent player in the social networking world. I wouldn’t really call it a Social Networking site as it is primarily chat based but kids are flocking to it. Essentially all you do is go to the Chat Roulette portal, allow the service to access your computer’s mic and video then take your chances. Who you get to chat to is supposedly completely random but frequently creepy. Apparently it is the latest thing in connecting online but if my child was participating on this site I would not be happy.

Chatroulette’s Child Safety policy:

  • None
  • Zippo
  • Zilch

One final thing. I do not believe there is anything inherently evil or untoward about these sites that I mention. Where the dangers lie are with the users and their behaviors within these Social Networks. As an Old School Parent I would assume you will use the information provided as a frame of reference when discussing with your child the dangers of and what their own personal responsibility is, when using these sites.  Using Social Networks can be a rewarding and advantageous activity to participate in but only if the users are personally responsible for their own actions. Your child needs to understand that Ethical behaviour doesn’t only exist in the real world but in the cyber world as well. One mistake can result in permanent damage to ones person or reputation.

Next Post: Keeping Tabs on Your Kid Online

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