friend or unfriend

… just presented again a workshop as part of the Beyond Digital Workshop series today with a group of parents. The focus Digital Citizenship and the variables and technologies associated with both, and how this can and does play out in families. I have in the last couple years really taken an interest in this topic, and spent a lot of time researching and reading on the topic.  Mike Ribble’s work, blog and site have been a resource and inspiration. More importantly through my own two children and their interests in social networks and how they develop, manage and participate in socializing with these technology I have been pushed to reflect on the whole issue.

The one aspect that jumps out, is the issue of privacy, and how my concept of privacy and sharing information is based on complete different assumptions than my own children and many teenagers. What fascinates me is the concept of “friend” in the context of social networks. You might be like me of a generation where a “friend” is someone you have a long common experience together, someone who is comfortable witnessing your worst and best moments. It is a human relationship that gets better with time, and something that you have to work at. You tend to have a few but we are talking between maybe 5-10 at most. Then you have acquaintances people you know, you spend time with, socialize with in the context of work, or school, but in the long run maybe have no vested interest, and then maybe more guarded about sharing all aspects of yourself with them.

So let us look at today. Maybe you are 13. You hang on a social network, let us pick Facebook, and you are active and social.

This is what I find interesting the term “friend” in the context of Facebook in many ways has changed the physiology of the word. Now friend is actually a confirmation that yes you can come into my facebook, and sit there looking at my own private life with the label friend. I do this exercise with kids I teach Digital Citizenship, and ask them if we put all their Facebook “friends” in a room could they name them, and share one common experience they have had. The thing is often many of these kids have from 200- 500 friends and some even more, I have seen a case of over 1,000. Kids will claim they can, but actually the reality I think would be a little different.

When you post a lot of your private thoughts, reflections and musings, and open this to a few hundred folks there is so much potential for mis-interpretation, and potential abuse or sharing of information to a wider scope of people you quickly loose control of. The important thing to realize, is that many of the social networks and social web 2.0 tools default to public so often without your own knowledge. You are immediately in a very public setting with your information. Kids getting onto these social networks do not have a point of reference often, coach or mentor, or aware of the specific dynamics of their privacy settings, which is understandable. It is not like this is advertised or pushed as a key component of the joys of joining Facebook or many other social networks.

The shift, I think is as educators and parents we need to be that mentor, point of reference to high light the unique variables of social networks, and act as a resource to frame what lies ahead when kids begin their journey with Web 2.0 tools and social networks . Not a resource on social networks but a resource and mentor on the dynamics of privacy in social settings be it online or off line. Easier said than done… I will come back to this in another post, the issue of trust and children in the age of social networks and Web 2.0.

I enclose this excellent link which for me is something anyone and everyone on Facebook needs to go through and understand, as a parent, spending time on this was a wonderful way to connect and engage in conversations about what is a “friend” what is privacy, what do I want the world to know and what do I want to keep myself. 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

We are doing our children, students and young generation a huge dis-service if we do not share and frame to them concretely the importance of private profile or public profile in a social network and/or the online/offline world, and what it means and implications it has long term in their digital context.

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