Without going in to all the details of why, let me share with you about my experience with a group of students doing some ‘Facebook sensitivity training’ as the HS counselors called it! I chose to refer to it as a ‘Facebook/Online Profile workshop’. I’m sure the students didn’t enjoy all of it (they weren’t really meant to after all) but I will say that I thought it was an incredibly worthwhile 4 hours.
Initially we began the day with just talking about Facebook. We looked at how it works; we examined and discussed the privacy settings (which most kids were unaware of) and even gave the kids time to go in and put some settings into place. As we were chatting as a group about Facebook, one student said he hadn’t worried about ‘getting into trouble’ because he wasn’t ‘friends’ with any adults on Facebook. Suppressing the urge to grin, I looked at him and asked him if he was ‘friends’ with any of the other 20 kids in the room. He confirmed he was ‘friends’ with just about all of them. I then asked the group to raise their hands if they had adults as friends on Facebook. Every single hand in the room went up but this boy’s. As we had just finished discussing the privacy settings and how friends of friends can see what you write…he was smart enough to put two and two together and sheepishly nodded his head saying “okay, I get it.”
Eventually I gave the kids some time to research Facebook, Privacy on the Internet, and/or Cyberbullying. We then came back together as a group to share what the kids had found. They were shocked at the information they found-the lack of privacy and the way information was being used to fire people from jobs, evict tenants from their rental homes, and deny students admission to universities. This was a major eye opener for these kids…and that is what has me worried! Why was this information new and unknown to these students? The events they were reading about have been happening with more and more frequency-yet it was all news to these 20 sixth, seventh, and eight graders. And what about the rest of the kids that weren’t a part of this workshop? How much do they know about all of this? Who is talking about this stuff with our students…?(more to come on this in a later blog post-hopefully it will be good news about the direction we’re headed in due in part to our Facebook fiasco!)
On a side note-I established from the outset that I was far from against Facebook, if anything I was a pro-Facebook believer. It was perfect that while I was working with these kids on understanding the negative power of social networking, at the same time there was a huge rally happening in our neighborhood that demonstrated the positive power. An environmental studies teacher with his class started a Facebook group to ban plastic bags in Thailand and at that point had over 7,000 members! They advertised the rally on Facebook and had over 1,000 people attend. Now that is power in connections.
As part of the workshop, the students had two ‘assignments’. The first one was to write an essay on some of the things they had learned from their time together. They could write on anything from Facebook to Privacy to Cyberbullying-it was their choice. The second assignment was also a choice-they could create a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for Facebook or they could create a collage of words/pictures representing who they wanted to be in this world (we had spent some time discussing this around Online Profiles and Cyberbullying earlier). This is where something remarkable happened.
One of my students, Gina (who is one of the coolest 8th graders I’ve met), wrote an excellent essay about Facebook and privacy. She posted it on her blog and I shared the link with Jeff, who then twittered it out to his ‘peeps’. Gina quickly found herself in the limelight with people from all around the world reading her essay and asking if they could share it with others-teachers were requesting her permission to share it with their entire class of students. Here’s the goosebump moment-Gina loves writing and has written some stunning poetry. She really has a gift…and in her collage, she had written: “I want to someday be…writing things that make people think about their lives.” Well, Gina, as an 8th grade middle school student, you’ve managed to do just that. But please don’t stop writing-there’s a lot more thinking people need to do and you have just begun accomplishing your dream!
In following up with each of the students in the workshop, I asked them what was the biggest thing they took away from their ‘training’. Almost all of them answered without hesitation “There’s no such thing as privacy on the Internet!”