The social media ‘green cross code’

There is still room for improvement when it comes to our online health, says Aston University’s Peter Coe

Children are discovering the internet and social media at a younger and younger age, and with a fluency that people just a generation older can only dream of. It’s changing the way in which school-age children interact and, as they approach young adulthood, it is becoming a bigger and bigger factor when finding jobs and kick-starting careers. 

We are rightly placing increased emphasis on skills to help prepare young people for the workplace which, along with the traditional educational pillars like literacy and numeracy, help them live healthy and successful lives.

‘It’s as though we are losing our ability to distinguish between online and offline life, or at least becoming less cautious with the way we interact with the online world’

But one area where there is still room for improvement is ‘online health’. While the basics of safety online – don’t give out personal information, for instance – are well known, and closely match the ‘stranger danger’ advice of years gone by, there is little by way of advice to help develop a positive online presence.

Even as adults, we often simply don’t understand the power we have in our hands and – quite literally – at our fingertips. We are now constantly connected. These online platforms have become an extension of our lives and an essential part of our social lives.

This change has brought lots of benefits, but there is always the potential that comments that were once casual throwaways or expressions of emotion are now permanently etched on our online history. It’s as though we are losing our ability to distinguish between online and offline life, or at least becoming less cautious with the way we interact with the online world.

A simple ‘green cross code’ for social media use is a good place to start:

  • (P) Remember that everything you put online has the potential to be seen by anybody and everybody, and that it can be PERMANENT.
  • (A) Before posting, tweeting, sharing, texting or uploading think about your AUDIENCE and how it could affect them and/or their opinion of you and others, now and later on. 
  • (U) If you are still UNSURE ask for a second opinion from somebody you trust. Equally, if you receive a text, tweet, message or picture that you are UNSURE about tell somebody you trust.
  • (S) STOP AND THINK what impact your online activity may have on your privacy, or the privacy of others. Remember (P).
  • (E) If you are uncomfortable with anything that’s been tweeted, posted, shared or uploaded END your involvement immediately and tell somebody you trust.

The acronym, PAUSE, is in itself good advice, encouraging young people to detach from the immediacy of social media and avoid the potential pitfalls of a fleeting or emotional response. An awareness of the permanence of posts is vital, so that the seemingly acceptable or inconsequential doesn’t undermine your reputation down the road. As we teach young people the birds and the bees of social media, encouraging them to keep one eye on the future should be a big part of it. 

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There’s a role here for business to play. The Google search and the social media scan are becoming an integral, if still informal, part of the recruitment process, and business should be there to explain just what a good online presence looks like.

‘The Google search and the social media scan are becoming an integral, if still informal, part of the recruitment process, and business should be there to explain just what a good online presence looks like’

Big graduate recruiters speaking to GCSE or A-level students are more than able to explain the sort of qualifications and extracurricular activities they are looking for on a new recruit’s CV. What they are less able to explain is what a positive social media presence looks like.

Is it an engagement with key issues through evidence of wider reading? Or is it engaging with key influencers, becoming part of the debate and building a network online? Or is it an active blog showing not just engagement, but full comprehension and fresh ideas? It’s also likely to be the case that some sectors and businesses still prefer their employees to have no online presence at all. These are things young people need to know. 

Helping our young people stay prepared for the rapidly changing online world is a two stage process:

1)    Starting at school and in college, we should encourage them to PAUSE and think about the potential ramifications of each tweet, Instagram post, or Facebook status.
2)    Work with business to help young people build a positive online presence – one that helps our school leavers and graduates get ahead in the world of work.

If we can crack those two points we can help young people be happy, healthy and successful – online and offline.

Peter Coe is a barrister and lecturer in law at Aston University.

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