The Impact of Social Media on Young People; should social media workshops be part of the National Curriculum?

I would describe myself as an avid social media observer rather than user. Contributing to social media discussions by posting and commenting should be something that we take considerable care over and in no demographic is this more apparent and applicable than teenagers and young adults.  The significance and impact of a throw away comment/retweet/picture on a twitter feed or Facebook page should not be underestimated as social media has changed the way we communicate; private conversations can become public and public conversations can become viral.

At 31 am one of the senior statesman in our office and the majority of my team and teams that surround me are occupied by younger, hipper and far more innovative individuals than myself. What they also all have in common is some degree of social media awareness and whether or not they know it, they had this particular skill set before they were employed.  When listening to social media, I am not convinced other young adults and teenagers share this awareness, in fact I would say the majority are in desperate need of education and support so they can understand how to use social media responsibly. This is supported by a lot of the conversations I have had over the past five years  with younger people who have fallen into the trap of misusing social media to the point where this has impacted on their own reputation so much that they now believe it is hindering their chances of employment.

With this in mind, take a look at Piers Morgan’s next tweet and look at the response he receives.  Now I am certainly not declaring myself a Piers Morgan fan but I am currently looking at his last tweet which was a simple reference to a plastic surgery article. It received over a dozen responses, 90% of which I cannot reference due to the language and general abuse used. Let’s look a little deeper; one of the comments posted was uploaded by what would seem to be a young man from the U.K. in which several profanities were used which contributed to a very unpleasant message.  This comment is visible on both Piers Morgan’s and more importantly the individual’s profile which is available for all to see. With an individual like Piers who regularly responds to such abuse, there is also the possibility of this comment going viral and as a result being presented directly to Google. What this means is that if you were to Google the individual’s name you would be likely to see the same offensive comment on page one of his search results. As an industry insider, let me tell you, this happens more often than you would expect.

Comments that often contain abuse come from what would look like made up handles with generic images and are often referred to as ‘Trolls’. We can speculate as to what kind of person would write such obscene comments on a public platform and whilst this type of person is not the target audience for this particular article, it does represent an excellent example of how an ill thought out comment could potentially go viral. It’s the younger generation we need to look out and take responsibility for.

It’s very difficult for a parent to police social media and if they do not allow their children to use the internet, they are in danger of alienating them. Most parents and adults today grew up using landline telephones, buying CD’s from the high street and knocking on doors for friends. They are not as well versed in social media as the next generation of parents will be which means there is currently a whole generation who are not receiving the kind of guidance and support required to use social media in a responsible way.  One real opportunity that could address this issue is to start simple workshops in schools for children from the age of 13 as the way they use social media will undoubtedly have an impact on how they are perceived by others.

We cannot expect teens and young adults to use social media responsibly without the right sort of prior guidance just as we wouldn’t expect them to be able to complete an algebraic equation without first being taught the rules required to solve it.

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