Digital: Are scare tactics the answer for safer social media?

Digital: Are scare tactics the answer for safer social media? 

"Knowledge is dropping from the tongue of the wise; but from the mouth of the foolish comes a stream of foolish words," says the Proverb. And yet, like moths to the flame, the siren call of blogs and MySpace (remember that?) and Facebook and Tumblr now, too, have tempted us into sending every thought into the digital ether that knows no bounds. Until now. 

Older, wiser, but reeling from the repercussions, those of us who dared to air all and sundry (and stupidity) while other, wiser, souls sat back and watched the train careening off the track, can now tell the cautionary tale and help younger people to see the error in the compulsion to tattle (rattle and troll) on the internet. 

Two new short films for teens address the social media minefield, with mixed results. Cyber Sin, which is being screened in schools, has attracted negative press for its shock tactics and the implication that a cyber-bullying victim commits suicide.

Critics, including Queensland University of Technology associate professor Marilyn Campbell, have suggested that rather than focusing on the possible outcomes, it could have focused on strategies for coping with and overcoming the issue. 

Launched in Melbourne on Friday, Tagged, a short film commissioned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority for its "Cybersmart" campaign, takes a slightly different approach. 

In the film, a group of teen girls who blog images, and then a film, in order to incriminate a school boy and spread gossip, get their just desserts when the tables are turned. 

While the eye-for-an-eye outcome lands the whole lot in hot water when the school principal calls in the parents and the key perpetrator – the head gossip girl – is faced with her ailing reputation, a digital ripple effect she didn't anticipate, there are resolutions provided.

Rosalie O'Neale, senior advisor for the Cybersmart Programs, says it's very important that we groom young people to be responsible online users, but also that we are able to provide them with adequate support and information should they find themselves in trouble, or vulnerable.

"Parents can help their child understand that what is said and done online is important," she says. "That good manners, courtesy and respect are just as necessary online as offline; that there is some information that should stay private; and that what is posted online can be there forever."

While the ACMA has a number of resources available on the Cybersmart website, social media sites also have mechanisms in place for making amendments in the case of errors of judgement or reporting instances of deliberate abuse or offense, including the uploading of images you would rather the world didn't see. 

"Facebook does provide a mechanism for reporting material which doesn’t comply with its Terms of use – you can read about these in the Facebook Safety Centre," says O'Neale. "It’s a very good idea to keep an eye on who is posting pictures of you, and how those pictures have been tagged. You can ‘untag’ pictures if you want." 

While some schools monitor their students' social media activity, and parents can do so inside the home with filtering software aiding them, encouraging young people to first do no harm – and reap the benefits of positive online engagement, even rewarding them for it – is another way forward. Incentives, in addition to guidelines and penalties, may encourage appropriate behaviour.

Would issuing students with social media report cards, in addition to standard curriculum, particularly when they engage with social media out of school hours (most schools have 1-4 hour online access limits), put restrictions on their freedom of expression, relationships and social lives?

As branding expert Sharon Williams recently wrote for The Australian, an element of trust must exist to encourage young people to make positive choices for themselves. But an element of duty of care for others must be inbuilt, too. And this stems from laying basic moral foundations for functioning in the world both on and offline. They may not be able to control what others do online, but they can at least manage themselves.

Would you be happy for your grandmother to read what you've written or see what you've uploaded? Could you say that thing you wrote to someone face-to-face? What would Lisa Simpson do?

See also:
Social Media Twits

Girl With a Satchel