I was going to title this "a dangerous place," but I only partly believe that. If you're careful, and think things through, it's no more dangerous than any other time. (I've been careful not to hit "reply all." I never send e-mails when I'm angry. If something promises to be controversial, I always ask someone I trust to read it before I send it. And I don't believe those letters that promise me a share of $6,000,000 in some foreign bank if I only send them my credit card information.)
However, the last couple weeks have reminded me that, for our students and our children, we need to make sure they understand the dangers (o-kay, it can be a dangerous place) of the internet.
Here are three of the metaphors I've heard, that might work with our children, when talking about facebook, or any of the other social networks available on the web:
1) Don't write anything unless you'd be happy wearing a t-shirt with what you've written on both the front and back of the shirt.
2) Don't write anything unless you'd be happy with it being on the front page of the Windsor Star, attributed to you.
3) What would your grandmother's reaction be, if she read what you were writing?
However, in spite of this, I know that some of our students won't get it.
I've worked with students over the last couple years who say to me, "But I was just writing it to my friends! I didn't mean for it to get back to the school! It was one of their faults for forwarding it on to the person I was talking about!"
I've also worked with students who've said, "My mother and father don't care what I write, or how I write it, why should you?"
Both of these situations leave me shaking my head. Not because I believe them when they say you don't care, but because they show a lack of understanding about the nature of the internet.
Here's the reality: Once you've written something, and posted it, or sent it - it's out there. It belongs to anyone and everyone you've sent it to. And you've completely lost control of how it gets distributed after that. You might have a proviso at the bottom of your e-mail that says it is only intended for the person it was sent to, but that doesn't really stop someone from forwarding it on.
And the other reality, that our kids may not appreciate (yet) , is that potential colleges, universities, and employers have just as much access to the internet as everybody else.
They search people out before hiring or accepting them! It's easy to say, when you're sixteen, "I don't want to work for a company that would do that, or who doesn't appreciate my sense of humour," or "But I was just joking when I posted that picture!"
It's much harder to believe that when you're nineteen, or twenty, or thirty - and you're not being hired because of something you wrote and posted without thinking.
So - to our teachers - please stress to our students the importance and sensitivity of what they write on facebook - and how it can come back to bite them.
And to our parents and guardians - please let your children know that you do care about what they write, and what image they are presenting of themselves to the rest of the world.