Students: Web Sites, Blogs, and Too Much Information

Background

Over the past year, many stories of children and teens using web logs (“blogs”) and social networking Web sites have impacted our daily world. While many sites are productive new tools for communication, parents must understand there is risk when students upload written statistics, personal information, or identifiable pictures to these sites.  School districts must urge parents to monitor their children’s use of the Internet including blogs and popular social networking sites. Children are at times posting personal information including pictures on these sites, as well as pictures of their friends, which can expose children to predators and unwanted attention.

A recent study by Perseus Development Corporation indicates that almost half of all blogs are authored by teenagers and a majority of the top 15 sites visited by teens 17 and under in January 2005 were either blogs or social networking sites. The content being posted by young people on these sites concerns experts.

A study of blogs published this year by the Children’s Digital Media Center at Georgetown University revealed that many users volunteer too much personal information. Two-thirds provide their age and at least their first name. Six percent will offer their location and contact information, and one in five will offer their full name. In February 2006, research revealed that, while they may not be able to cite a single case of a child predator hunting for or finding a child through a blog, there are cases of children being lured through the other Internet services, such as chat rooms.

Precautions to Take
There really isn’t much that anyone can do to stop the use of the Internet and the widespread popularity of social networking sites by young people and adults. However, we can bring attention to this new issue to parents and youth who are blogging or posting information, opinions, or personal data on the sites. There are some ways parents can protect their ID, their children, or their family from the challenges and threats on the Internet.

Security features

  • Use password protection and other security features to limit access to inappropriate sites.
  • Burn or shred all papers containing personal information. NEVER recycle these items.

Personally identifiable information

  • Reduce the amount of information that is posted on blogs and social networking sites (including a member’s school) since a database can be searched by school name and state in order to identify all members that may attend a particular school district.
  • Never publicly post online any personally identifiable information. Even without meaning to, you can give this information away by placing on the Internet a picture of a student wearing a school or team t-shirt.
  • Always keep in mind that some individuals will make and maintain contact with a student with the intent to glean as many small bits of information as possible.
  • It is impossible to tell what’s fake or what’s real online. Delete any e-mail that asks for personal information.

Computer

  • Locate your computer in central areas of the house such as den, living room, etc., so that computer use can be easily observed.
  • Seek out ways to configure your computer and automatically block access to chat rooms, pornographic sites, and blogs that you feel should be prohibited or may engage in risky behavior with children. Note: this may require obtaining advice, software, or hardware from experts.
  • Read the very comprehensive terms of service guidelines on Web sites and blogs. They may appear to be more in depth than those published, as they are clearly outlined and identify parents’ and young people’s rights.

Communicate with Children

  • Talk to your children and review what they write prior to posting on any kind of blog.
  • Limit time on the Internet.
  • Tell children, as well as other adults, not to post anything you would never want to see published or shared.
  • Talk to children about never posting any information or pictures that they would not want broadcast to the entire world. Even if that information is later deleted, it may have been saved or printed by someone else. Once information is on the Internet, it should be considered permanent.
  • It is prudent for parents periodically to check the contents of their children’s profiles or use of the Internet. This can be done by having the child log on to the site and then clicking on a link that is identified as View My Profile.

Resource

  • Visit sites such as NetSmartz.org (http://www.netsmartz.org) to get more advice on prevention and appropriate use of Internet resources.

Source: Greendale School District, WI

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG