Let’s reclaim social media

Let’s tell young people there is a better way to use social media.

By Mark Saxby, social media consultant, Status Social

Mark Saxby is a social media consultant at Status Social, which delivers Positive Social sessions to young people in schools.

Article from April 2018 issue of Your Voice.

How many likes do you need on an Instagram post to feel like you are really loved?

How many views do you need to get on your YouTube video to feel like a whole person?

How many likes do you need to get on a Facebook post to be a successful member of society?

Ask students these questions and the answers are astonishing. Hundreds of likes and views are necessary to make us feel happy, some reply.

You can’t stop young people using social media – it’s become too ingrained in society. But can you help them use social media in a way where their self-worth isn’t affected? Where their career prospects aren’t damaged? Where they don’t use it to abuse others?

Yes, we need to let young people know of the dangers, but we also need to encourage the positive side of social media. If we world-weary adults try and convince the kids that social media is evil, we are going to be totally ignored.

Young people need to be empowered to use social media in the right way. They should understand the privacy settings of the platforms – giving them the power to choose who sees their content. That’s a simple, obvious thing to teach.

And then there’s social media bullying. Young people aren’t always aware that they are the ones doing the bullying. Because the conversations take place online, reality is often removed and common sense goes missing. But tell a young person that they are the bully and they begin to think twice.

There’s the criminal element. Students are shocked when they hear about people their age being banned from travelling or even going to jail because of something silly posted on social media. When they hear of examples of young people losing their job because of something they posted when they were just 13, it makes them really think.

Using social media positively

That’s the negative side, but if you focus just on this then you come across as a grumpy parent stuck in 1998. So how can you use social media positively?

Plenty of young people do amazing things on social media. There are the teenagers vlogging (video blogging) about their illness or disability on YouTube. There are the young people using Facebook to raise money for charity. There are the youngsters finding their political voices on Twitter.

Creative teenagers are sharing their artwork or animations on Instagram and young writers are turning their thoughts into blogs. Gamers are sharing their adventures on Fortnite via screen captures. And if you don’t know what Fortnite is then ask a teenage boy.

Teachers are recognising the power of positive social media. Like the Scottish Education Awards 2014 Teacher of the Year winner, Gillian Campbell-Thow, who uses Twitter to engage with her students and their parents.

So, let’s tell young people there is a better way to use social media. Let’s not try and beat them up but raise them up. Let’s show them that social media can be a power for good and not a place to hurt. Not a way to gain self-worth but a method of expressing their skills and passions. Not a place where career prospects have to be destroyed but a communication tool to help them find a job.

Let’s reclaim social media for what it should be for our young people and not what it’s become.

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