[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:
“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.