Social software is a generic term for community networks, chat rooms, instant messenger systems, online journals, social networks and blogs (personal web journals).
Social environments enable any community to share resources and ideas amongst users. There are many excellent public examples of social software being used to support formal and informal educational practice amongst young people and amongst educators. They are also popular ways of enabling users to publish and share information, including photographs, streams of video from webcams, video files and blogs about themselves and their interests. Examples include MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Facebook, Orkut and MSN Spaces.
The vast majority of usage causes no concern and, for example, in the form of eportfolios on learning platforms has educational value. C2k school networks filter out services which are misused and block attempts to circumvent the filters. However, a minority of use outside schools can cause significant concern.
In some services, (such as MySpace) profiles are public while in others (such as Bebo) users can choose to let only their personal friends see their profile. In either case, users should be cautious about the information they disclose and how they interact with unknown contacts.
Some services serve both adults and children, mixing content that is seen by both and, while age limits are applied to protect young users, these are easily circumvented.
Content may however include unacceptable and/or threatening comments about other pupils and/or staff which are serious enough to threaten physical and emotional damage.
Pupils may also allow personal details including their home address and email address to be identified soliciting inappropriate attention and creating vulnerability to grooming (see Child Protection).
Childnet publishes important information for parents, educators, industry and children and young people about safety online.
Childnet’s Blogsafety website gives information about blogging and social networking and serves as a gateway to the much larger blogsafety website which Childnet supports.
Download the Childnet leaflet PDF 1.35MB for parents/carers on online safety issues.
Pupils should be taught about responsible and safe use of social software. (See Education Programme for Pupils)
- Are pupils aware of the safety issues relating to using social software?
- Are pupils aware how to safely negotiate online relationships?
- Are pupils aware of the importance of keeping personal information private when online?
- Are pupils aware of the dangers of arranging offline meetings with people they have met online?
- Under what circumstances are chat rooms and instant messaging services permitted within school for educational purposes?
- If not, are such services appropriately blocked on the school’s network?
- Do pupils know how to protect personal information when registering for instant messaging services, and how to set up closed groups or buddy lists?
- Do pupils know where to get help and advice and how and where to report if they experience problems such as unwanted messages or bullying online?
Schools should encourage responsible use by pupils, such as only giving access to personal friends, not meeting someone offline that they have only met online and creating an awareness that publishing slanderous or harassing materials is illegal and will be prosecuted.
Any cases where a child is considered to be potentially at risk online should be reported immediately to the local police.
Online abuses and harassment should also be reported to the software operator.
Report breaches of C2k filtering at once to the Helpline: 0870 6011 666
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre also provides a facility for reporting abuse on the Internet.
If online content is potentially illegal, report to the Internet Watch Foundation.
The urzone website is sponsored by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and provides advice and help on a range of issues affecting young people in Northern Ireland, including guidance on how to stay safe online.
Social software operators themselves have acceptable use, privacy policies and education resources:
The C2k service filters out social networking sites. The web addresses for the safety guidance published by social software operators have been provided for access outside the service.
Abuse and harassment is illegal and is subject to legal action.