Teaching teachers and parents about social media safety

This post isn't specifically about special needs, but it's for all teachers and parents everywhere to help you stay safe on social media. Yes, not your kids. You.

My day job, other than SNJ is as a social media consultant. I help small enterprises but in particular specialise in enabling patient organisations and charities to leverage the power of social media for social good.

I've also done a spot of training at a local FE college for students. At first, I could sense they were thinking, "What does this old lady have to tell awesome teenagers like us about social media?" By the end, they were scurrying off to check their Facebook security settings. Job done.

Schools and parents often worry about the dangers of children using social media. And they have good reason to worry after a spate of suicides reportedly connected to cyberbullying, such as Issy Dix when using question sites such as Ask.fm, or bullying by their peers. We worry about them revealing too many details about themselves online, or of being targeted by paedophiles masquerading as young people. The campaign against Ask.fm was brilliantly successful when the bigger company Ask.com acted to squash its troublesome namesake by buying it to stamp out that kind of behaviour

The internet is a scary place, a veritable jungle swarming with predators, trolls and myriad chances to get into trouble. Education is necessary to teach our young and naïve children - especially those with learning difficulties - about the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

But who is to give them this awareness training? And who will reinforce and enforce it? You would rightly say parents and teachers of course. But so many are internet-ignorant themselves that it's usually the kids teaching the parents. But it's not so much the technicalities in many instances that young people need to be made aware of, but the nuances, the deceptive tactics those up to no good can deploy, and understanding that just because you can't see someone doesn't mean that you can't hurt or embarrass them or be hurt in turn.

Teachers and parents - how's your Facebook security?

Now and then, I check my kids’ Facebook profiles to make sure that they aren't sharing anything untoward and that their security levels are appropriate for what they are sharing. I never have to worry, apart from a recent episode in which Youngest had misappropriated a somewhat questionable cover image of a teacher he particularly dislikes and put it as their own cover picture. They didn't add any words but then they didn't need to; the mocking tone at how easy it was to find spoke for itself. And therein lies the point of this post.

There are teachers I have come across who have Facebook profiles as open as a 24-hour Tesco. As an experiment, I was able to trawl through profiles, see who their friends were. See that they liked a drink, that they'd been caught for speeding, what they'd been up to at the weekend. Because their friends list was open to the public, I could also easily find other teachers' profiles and check what their safety settings were. It might have been fun if it wasn't so worrying.

Because if I can find that out in a couple of clicks, so can your pupils. And so can anyone else.

How to keep your Facebook away from prying eyes

It isn't necessary as a teacher to have no internet social media presence at all, indeed there are any number on Twitter and they use it for good effect. It's only what is personal that you want to keep that way and there are a few easy steps you can take to protect your privacy.

Get to know Facebook's privacy tools.

Click the lock icon to the left of the notifications globe and it reveals a privacy checker. You should click the dinosaur (accurate as of Oct 2014) and complete those steps and then click the lock again and follow the steps in the other boxes such as "Who can see my stuff" and "Who can contact me".


Review your timeline

Make sure you review your timeline to see what is visible to whom. If you have a grey icon of a globe next to the status, that's who can see it - everyone. Do you really want some nosy kid or parent (like me) trawling through your profile? Set it to friends or set your friends into different categories such as 'close friends' 'acquaintances' and so on. If you want to share with just a certain group of friends such as people you work with or family, you need to visit each friend's page and add them to a custom list


Share photos wisely

Once it's up, as Youngest demonstrated, you have lost control of it. Even if you make it 'friends only', do you know who has downloaded that pic of you half-naked with your head down the toilet? Or that candid shot of you in your inadvisable teeny bikini on holiday in Menorca?
Once someone has downloaded it they are then free to upload it wherever they like. Yes, that's breaching your privacy and copyright and all that, but better not to have that worry in the first place.

Most importantly, be careful what images you share of your children. Read this post for more information.

The same goes for young people themselves, especially those with Asperger's, girls in particular, who might seek friendships online. Make sure you know what they are doing on social media. If they are younger teens, make sure they know about privacy and make sure they are friends with you, even if you have to make an account just for that. Don't worry about being a snoop. That's your job - if you can see it, so can everyone else - if your kid is savvy you may not see what they discuss with their friends and that's how it should be- but check through their friends list anyway so you know who they are communicating with. I would say making you be able to see their friends list is a minimum requirement for permission to use Facebook as well as a rule to only friend people they know in real life, or at a push who are friends of friends they know of already.

Use "View as"

Facebook has a facility accessible from your profile (The three dots next to the Activity Log) called 'view as' and you can see which of your friends or the public can see what. Again, use the list facility, accessible from the friends button to put people on lists and share your news and pics according to who you want to see them.


As far as Twitter goes, it's becoming a very popular destination for teachers but not something kids use in great numbers. Teachers can keep in touch which what's going on in the world, connect with other teachers or just educate themselves as to what Twitter is.
Some people protect their tweets- to me, this is fine if you're having a private chat club via Twitter and only your confirmed followers can see, but otherwise it kind of defeats the point of Twitter being an open forum.
And if you do protect your tweets - please don't follow me. I hate it when I get a follow from someone who protects their tweets and if I decide to follow back and don't notice this, I get a 'pending' until they authorise. But YOU followed ME! If I notice the tell tale lock I do not follow back- be warned.

Thankfully, as I said, Twitter is not a natural hangout for under 16s. They may have a profile but they probably don't use it much apart from following their idols, many of whom seldom do the updates themselves anyway.


  • Never put anything online you wouldn't mind your grandma, or your headmaster to see.
  • Once it's out there, you have lost control of it
  • Kids are more likely to use messaging apps like Snapchat and Instagram and talk with people they actually know- and most are pretty savvy - much more than their teachers in most cases.

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Tania Tirraoro

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