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Why it’s time to regulate social media in schools

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Why it’s time to regulate social media in schools

Why it’s time to regulate social media in schools

It is spring time, and once again I am planning a new network security plan for a school. The same issues as always, and the same questions, many involving social media.

All questions usually have answers with a price tag attached. Value in such planning is very subjective. After all, we spend money every year managing free apps on iPads, how does that make financial sense?

One question cannot be answered. Regardless of my due diligence and the school’s willingness to fund a comprehensive plan, students will still have phones. Those phones will have data plans. Those data plans circumvent all the work we do. Parents do not seem to care, because they are worried about having that device for logistics and emergencies.

These devices are addictive, and the applications are purely for entertainment and dopamine-driven feedback loops.

Yes, the network can manage the problem when students are on Wifi; but not when the students are on their own network.

Jamming signals is not legal in most countries, and localized jamming seems to cover very large spaces. Even if it was legal, it would impact other services.

I believe all problems can be solved, and I believe I have a solution for this one. Generically, I like to call it Social Media for Education.

Social Media for Education Explained

The core concept is simple. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., would offer an educational package. I firmly believe this should be a paid service for schools that can afford it, and free for schools that can demonstrate hardship. If you consider the cost of properly  blocking Apps on Wifi ($10-50 USD per student per year), this service would be viable if priced appropriately.

The social media companies would follow a Google Apps or O365 model for schools to join. They would require any person under the age of 18 to register as a student connected to a school.

For example, schools who sign-up would be given a school code, and could provide a student ID based roster for cross-referencing. Any person under 18 would be required to connect their profile to a school or education program of some sort(some students are home schooled or have other types of educational plans).

Unless they are connected to some type of educational plan, they simply cannot use social media until they are 18 years of age.

Schools who join would receive these benefits:

  1. Social media profiles are deactivated from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm everyday, in the timezone set by the school. This prevents VPN access from spoofing the clock.
  2. Schools could centralized a two steps homework system. Teachers would use Social media to circulate messages related to the school, and unless students confirmed all messages have been received (read), their profiles would not be activated. Although confirming a message has been seen does not equal work completed, it does mean the student acknowledged receiving the message. Blocking all other activities until all messages are cleared would prioritize the school’s notifications.
  3. Since all students can be identified and connected to a school or program, cyber-bullying would be easier to manage. Schools would need to make a request for data, but that data would connect to a student ID (most likely), and a verified location.

I have thought of more options, but, I would consider the above a tier one solution.

See also: The DOs and DON’Ts of social media for teachers

It Cannot Work Unless There is Regulation

It is clear from current practices, such as not enforcing the age restrictions for users, that social media companies will not offer services to schools that help disconnect students during their academic day.

In places like France, the government is physically banning phones from campuses. Other schools follow strict device confiscation policies. These measures only create a black market for phones, theft among students, and a burden on families who are victims of theft.

Trying to regulate property, and potentially facing liability issues related to property, is not the path to follow to solve this problem.

Governments need to simply require social media companies, or any company making a communications product, to provide the an identity and connection management system for those under the age of 18.

Those over 18 already have to use multiple methods to verify themselves when making new accounts. However, students seem to be able to join social media using devices and phone numbers that are not even legally in their own name. Think about that? I give my child a phone and number, they use it to join Facebook? How is that legal or even verified?

Not Enrolled in School = No Social Media

Compulsory Education around the world varies. Very few countries report having no compulsory education requirements.

No Requirement Based on Previous Data
Oman 0 2007
Solomon Islands 0 2002
Cambodia 0 2008
Holy See (Vatican City) 0 2007
Tokelau 0 2007
Bhutan 0 2008

The world-wide impact of adopting social media regulation of this caliber would equate to those under 18 not being allowed on social media, if they could not demonstrate they were enrolled in some type of educational program.

Likely, many countries would not participate in such regulation at all. However, it really only has to be country by country. As international as these platforms seem to be, connections students have are usually very local. Most students have their primary social network within the school they attend. That means their social media time is literally just interacting with people they could easily look at and speak with.

If Facebook in India were not participating, that would not impact a school in Korea. If students were to move from country to country (or school to school), they would have to re-register. The meta data from that behavior alone would help confirm drop-out rates, possible issues within school districts, etc. I believe the unknown benefits of the data would be substantial. Observer effect issues and data manipulation by school administration would be reduced.

I have been working with teenagers since 2005. I have worked with students from over 100 countries. I have been a technology disruptor, more times than I have supported the status quo. I believe in BYOD programs, and any students I have worked with will confirm I empower them to lead and make decisions. I know when I see a problem in the plan and the patterns. I know when students are not engaged, and when they are not learning. Mobile devices with addictive applications are a real problem. The design is an addictive design, and the effects are powerful. I hate regulation, but unfortunately, I think we are there.

More from Tony DePrato here. 

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Educational Technology Specialist in Dubai.

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