That’s too risky – but for who?

[Summary: things local authorities might say… and why they need to think again]

You might have heard a local authority or organisation you work with say something like this:

riskcartoon.jpg“We can’t engage with young people through social networking sites – it’s just too risky.”

To which my reply is generally ‘Risky to who?’.

Engaging with social network sites may present risks to organisations. Risks of not understanding what’s going on; Risks of hearing negative feedback from young people about what the organisation is doing; and risks of being associated with negative news stories about social network sites.

And leaping into SNS without preparing staff and having policies and support in place for practitioners also creates risks of mistakes being made.

But when organisations and authorities, who have a duty to promote the safety of children and young people don’t engage – it’s young people who are put at risk.

If Social Network Sites are blocked at school, and young people encounter unsuitable content or contact that worries them whilst they are circumventing the school filters, they are less likely to raise a concern with teachers or other adults because they may worry about getting into trouble for circumventing the blocks.

If staff don’t gain an understanding of social network sites through using them then they won’t be able to support young people to engage with them safely, or to respond to potential risks proactively.

But if staff are engaged with social network sites they can identify risks before they become harms; they can become approachable adults who young people will talk to about their worries; they can help young people develop their online communities into pro-social positive spaces.

8 thoughts on “That’s too risky – but for who?”

  1. I think its also quite concerning that potentially there are staff still engaging with young people online but in no official capacity and with no professional guidance – which do you prefer?

    1. A clear policy, clear guidance and relevant training to help staff use all parts of the web effectively in their work


    2. No guidance on using those parts of the web that young people use and staff who (maybe inadvertently) make contact with young people online out of their professional capacity – potentially exposing themselves and their organisation to unnecessarily difficult/awkward situations.

    For the young people it makes no difference at all – if you’re Bob the Youth Worker you’re still Bob the Youth Worker with or without policies & guidance. At least with a clear professional online identity it makes it easier to differentiate appropriate online contact & relations.

    What I don’t understand is the frankly dumb attitude there seems to be that we’ll wait for problems to occur before working out how to deal with them. How about trying to be proactive and then being able to take advantage of opportunities rather than firefighting & becoming overly concerned with perceived risk? Actually that pretty well sums up what I largely feel about Youth Services – they have a preference for waiting for problems to happen so that they can do yet more ‘issue based’ work 😉

  2. I agree very much with your post Tim. The use of ‘proxies’ to get round school blocking systems is inevitable as young people are relentlessly ingenious.

    With adults not understanding the benefits of social network sites and assuming they are only negative, they effectively just build walls between adults and young people…. and as you say stop being the approachable guardians they need to be.

    ….And how can adults offer any guidance and support when they don’t know how these sites work? Lets face it, most of them seem rather banal on their face value …. 🙂

  3. I’ve only just got to this Tim, so sorry for the late reply.

    I agree absoutely with what you’ve said. Check out my questions around the risk of not on my blog today…in relation to the BBC article which suggests it could be harmful NOT to enage young people with socvial netoworking.

  4. Kevin, thanks for the reply. The case is definitely continuing to build that we serve safety best by engaging not by building fences and hiding away..

  5. Hi Tim,

    Very good and clear.

    At my work we have a policy about our interactions with young poeple online and managing our (personal) facebook pages in a professional manner. We are struggling with how to say you don’t want to be ‘friends’ a young person you are working with…

  6. Hi Tom

    The solution to this, which works on facebook but not MySpace, is to create groups. In a group you can communicate with users without them seeing your profile and all communication is documented.

    It may well be that it still takes some persuading and explaining as to why you can’t add people as “normal” friends, but is agood inbetween. The other idea is to use the facebook privacy` settings to severly restirct young people but, as hidden communication can still take palce, that may not be acceptable.

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