Social Networking and Personal Publishing (SNAPP) – How do young people use the internet?

Social Networking, UGC, Gaming, P2P, Blogging, Chatting, IM 

Social Networking and personal publishing (SNAPP) sites are websites which help connect friends and publish your own content using tools like blogs, personal profiles, email and photos. Popular sites of this type include Bebo, Myspace, Friendster, Facebook and LiveJournal which have become part of contemporary culture for children, especially teens.

Such sites enable users to publish their work, thoughts, opinions and photos. Viewers of these sites can then have the opportunity to add comments on the information posted.

Personal publishing is a very powerful medium that allows children the opportunity to quickly publish their work to a worldwide audience. Social networking sites can encourage communication between people from diverse cultures and other countries and provide the opportunity to make friends with people who share their interests.

There are however downsides to this technology, which include users publishing personal information which can make them identifiable to potential predators or criminals. With the explosion of SNAPPS it becomes important for Parents and educators to be aware of both the technology and the dangers associated with it, to ensure children are safe online.

How do you use them?

Typically users sign up and create their own profile or ‘space’ online. Often, these contain standard sections promting the user to complete them such as ‘about me’ and ‘who I’d like to meet’; they also include sections for favourite music, films, sports, ‘scared of’ and ‘happiest when’ etc.

Users can add personal details such as marital status, physical appearance and the school they attend (or used to attend). They can also have their own blog that allows them to write daily thoughts or maintain a diary of events. A major part of customising their ‘space’ can be the uploading of images or pictures. They can set a chosen image to appear automatically on their main page and to the side of their user-name on comments and messages to others.

To today’s children, who are familiar with using the Internet for social purposes, posting a personal profile and sending messages and files to friends seems natural and harmless; however, there are safety concerns. Parents and children should discuss issues of inappropriate content, publicising personal information in the public domain, and potential contacts with friends they make online.

Most SNAPP sites have minimum age restrictions which can be found under their terms and conditions. Children, educators and parents should be aware of age restrictions before becoming a member of that site. Typically, most sites have an age restriction of aged over 13 according to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – www.coppa.org); this is to protect children’s privacy and to protect them from unsuitable advertising methods, it is not a measure of the suitability of the site such as with video games or films.

 

Very few sites have verification process to ensure a user is the age or gender etc they say they are. This means that it is NOT uncommon for underage children to obtain membership despite the site’s minimum age restrictions, it is currently estimated that 43% of 8 – 12s have an online profile on a social networking service (EU Kids Online, 2011). If a child can lie about their age to set up an account, then it is essential they are aware than anyone can lie about their identity to create an account. Underage users may be more vulnerable to dangers such as Cyberbullying, grooming and Identity Theft due to lack of understanding about the potential risks when using these sites.

 

It is important to recognise that if we simply ban or tell children not to use SNAPP sites then we will run the risk of driving any problems or incidents such as abuse or bullying underground as children won’t feel able to raise concerns at home or at school. All adults should ensure that children understand how to behave online in all circumstance and these skills should carry over to whichever site or system they are using.

 

SNAPP sites often have the option to make make a users ‘space’ or ‘profile’ online Public or Private. If a profile is public it means that anyone with access to the internet will be able to view all the content (such as photos, text, personal information) and use those details to make contact, pretend to be that person etc. If a profile is made private then only users accepted onto a ‘friends’ list will be able to view content. Careful consideraton must be given when making a profile public. Once the content is posted in the public domain the user cannot be sure who has seen the content and what may happen to the information posted there. If a profile is made private the child must be aware not to accept friend requests from people tey do not know, or to remove personal information which could identify them.

Key Tips For SNAPP Sites

  • Some of these sites ask the child to enter personal information in order to obtain a profile or ‘space’ – avoid these sites or leave the fields blank.
  • Some SNAPPS will ask the child to register using their school name, which is then displayed at the top of their profile or space – this is misleading and parents may assume the site is regulated by the child’s school – IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THAT THE SCHOOL IS INVOLVED!
  • Help the child understand that they should not publish pictures of themselves, their family or friends. If the child publishes a picture or video online – it is open for anyone to use it, change it or share it without the child’s knowledge.
  • All users must understand that there are rarely any checks or verification to ensure users are who they say they are, and age, sex and interests can often be made up.
  • It is important that the child does not publish personal information on their profile or ‘space’ which could identify tem in the ‘real’ world e.g. avoid real names, school, address, mobile number, friend and family names etc.
  • Always encourage the child to communicate what they are doing to an adult. It is important that a child feels able to tell someone if something makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Ensure the child has protected their space with a suitable password or only accept friends who they know in reallife sso that only invited people can view content.
  • Teach young people how to block unwanted contacts online and to report them if they feel uncomfortable.

Actions for Parent/carers and Educators

  • Set internet use ground rules (limit time online, don’t let them use the internet to aimlessly search, supervise access etc.)
  • Research SNAPPS and understand how they work
  • Be aware of the sites terms and conditions as well as age restrictions.

What to say?

  • Talk to the child about the dangers of these sites and how they should use them safely
  • Ask them to show you how the sites work and what steps they can take to keep safe
  • Show them how they leave a “digital footprint” online by searching for their name using one of the free Internet search tools. Also search for your address, phone number, school name, and the names of friends.

Other tips

  • Keep the computer in a family room where possible so you can see what the child is doing when on the Internet.
  • USe Parental controls/filtering to block access to inappropriate content
  • Use parental controls to monitor and block access to online content accessed via mobile phones and games consoles.
  • Take an interest in what the child is doing online
  • Discuss the dangers associated with SNAPPS and look together at websites that show how to use these sites safely and responsibly