Social networking was something I could never have imagined as a student. I sat as a third year university student chatting on amateur bulletin boards over my high-tech dial-up modem and using chat rooms on CompuServe (who charged for access by the minute). I was using the internet before the WWW started and thought it would never catch on but my imagination didn’t extend to a powerful computer in my pocket with the internet, GPS and social networking. Today our students (often labelled digital natives) have grown up with this level of technology and they aren’t phased by it. Of course with this familiarity comes a level of complacency that has recently surprised me.
I hear on technology sites that Facebook isn’t cool anymore (it’s where your parents hang out) so youngsters are moving to Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr instead. After years of nagging and much publicity our youngsters have grown used to the privacy settings that keep them safe. Unfortunately these privacy settings aren’t as detailed in the other networks that are intended to be more open and public. On Twitter you are either private or public, and in an ecosystem where the number of followers matters, many teenagers opt to leave their steam public meaning it is open to all. Many Twitter clients also have the ability to attach a location to individual tweets meaning that these tweets are searchable by location.
This is a screenshot of an app called Banjo for iOS. You can enter a location and see tweets and instagram photos on a map, many of these people are posting status updates from home. I’ve zoomed out of the map on this screenshot but you can zoom to street level quite easily.
So does the content of your twitter stream matter? Perhaps being from an older generation I think differently to the youth of today, but many of the tweets I see contain obscene language, sexual references and reference to drunken behaviour. If this information is public it is quite possible for it to come to light at a later date and scupper employment prospects as Paris Brown found out when she got a high profile job. The same is true of teachers who tweet the same kind of tweets.
The moral of the story is to exercise some common sense before you post and turn on location reporting with caution (and only use it where you want the location to be reported). How do we get that message through to our students?