5 social media dos, don'ts for students

Learn to maneuver around hazards of social networking

Like so many other areas of our lives, technology has changed our relationship with education. It has altered everything from the way we take notes and learn to the way we interact with one another.

Twenty years ago, for instance, most people still prepared their school reports on a typewriter. Fifteen years ago, the Internet became an important tool in education. Now, social media is having an impact on school.

We can argue whether or not there is legitimate value to social media as it relates to school, but the fact is that it exists (maybe your class or club has a Facebook page -- certainly your friends have individual pages.)

But the fact of the matter is that you need to know how to use it properly, safely, and effectively.

Let's start with the basics ...

No. 5: Learn how to use social media

While a lot of social media tools are fairly simple to use, there are so many people who use them incorrectly, and we've seen it. The gaffes can be simple typos or epic posts that leave the author in a cloud of his own embarrassment.

The best are the ones where the Facebook user goes online to complain about his job and how horrid his boss is, but forgets his boss is his Facebook friend. Or a guy calls in sick to work, but then posts pictures of himself at a baseball game -- only later to get busted by the boss.

If you know how your social media tool works, you're not likely to commit some gaffe that will come back to bite you.

Learn what happens when you use a social media tool -- and how you can use it without causing damage.

Now, that you know how it works, be sure to use it responsibly ...

No. 4: Respect other people's privacy

One of the biggest problems for average Joes and social media is something that schools and the media have had to deal with for years: getting permission to post someone's picture on your Flickr, My Space or Facebook page.

While you were having a great time at the pep rally, snapping away pictures to commemorate your delightful time, that person in the photo with you that you identified by name may not want their picture posted online.

And it's not because they may have been doing something inappropriate -- they may just not want their picture posted.

True, you can use the argument that it is a public event and they are fair game. While that is certainly legal, it may affect your friendships and relationships.

Do the smart thing and make sure the people who are in your pictures are OK with you posting them.

But if you think you're ready to hit the "return" key, hold up a sec ...

No. 3: Think twice before hitting return

There is a problem with commenting back and forth online: We don't have the subtle facial and verbal cues that we subconsciously rely on when we communicate in person.

That's why those emoticons -- stupid as they are -- are actually useful, when used properly. There's a difference between: "Those pants make your butt look big" and "Those pants make your butt look big. :)"

And when those interpersonal cues are missing, people can misunderstand a comment and a conversation can take a turn for the worse. Once people start letting their emotions off the leash, things get heated. Unfortunately, once you hit "Return," you no longer have control of the statement and it's forever committed to the ether.

Once something is on the Internet, it's out of your hands. As the saying goes, once you've squeezed it, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.

You also can't follow the rules if you don't know them ...

No. 2: Know your school's policy

This one harkens back to the earlier point about being respectful of others, but you should also be respectful to your institution. Your school probably has rules governing your use of social media, and learning those rules can keep you out of hot water.

In some cases, schools outright forbid their teachers from having Facebook pages. Your school may also have strict guidelines for a club's Facebook page.

Of course, they can't keep you from personally having a page and you can talk about whatever you want there, but they may have limits in place about what -- in their name -- you can do.

Whether or not these policies are legal or ethical is a debate for another venue, the point here is that you should know and understand your school's policies.

But there is one social media rule that students and parents should know above all else ...

No. 1: Be sure to stay safe

This is Internet 101, and the source material for so many Lifetime network movies, but it bears repeating: Be safe online. Be careful about what information you give out, because it can be used against you.

If you're in a chat room or in a new environment, you should already know not to give out your last name or age, or any personally identifiable information.

But beyond that, take a look at your profile page on whatever social media platform you're using. Look at what information is available. Is your phone number on there? Are your privacy settings solid?

Posting a picture of yourself at track practice with a caption like "This is what we do every day from 3 to 5!" seems innocuous enough, but it can give creeps the information they want.

Having too much personal information and weak security can leave you open for ne'er-do-wells who want to harm you.

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