Social networks are ways of bringing people together using technology to informally (‘socially’) interact (‘network’).
Many (but not all) social networks have ‘privacy settings’ which let someone choose who they are sharing information with. Social networks encourage people to chat and share information so for parents guardians and carers some key things to think about are:
If your child is using a social network under the specified age (for example some social networks require users to be 13) they will be vulnerable. Children under the age of 13 who are using social networks designed for older children or adults are not likely to fully understand online risks and the short and long term consequences of some of their own behaviours.
If a child has registered with a social network saying that they are over 18 they might not have access to privacy settings which are specially designed to help keep children safer.
If they have registered their age as older, other people including adults online may chat with them in a different way not knowing that they are a child. This could include talking about things that are not appropriate for children including sex, requesting sexual images, and using bad language. This can be incredibly risky for children so it's really important that they are registered with their actual age.
Here’s some basic information about the most popular sites.
Facebook is a social network that connects people together. No child under the age of 13 should be registered with Facebook. Facebook has special privacy measures for children but if a child doesn’t register themselves as such (i.e. they input a date of birth to make them appear over 17 years old) then those privacy features aren’t available.
There are practical issues (like privacy settings) and behaviour issues (accepting friends, posting pictures) that we recommend are discussed with children and some boundaries agreed as to what’s okay and what’s not. Parents can find information about security and safety on the Facebook website. The iKeepSafe website also has a Parents Guide to Facebook which is a really useful read. The UK Safer Internet Centre has developed a Facebook Checklist which is a quick and simple read for parents and children.
Twitter is like a mini online journal meaning that people can ‘tweet’ (which means write and publish) very short posts. Twitter posts can be restricted which means that only certain ‘followers’ can see what is posted. If that setting is not activated all ‘tweets’ are visible to everyone. On Twitter people can post pictures and video links and also send each other Direct Messages (i.e. private messages). If you haven’t used Twitter before and want to understand how it works you can find information on the Twitter website.
There are lots of places where you can find out more about social networks. Many social networks have their own pages for parents and guardians so it's worth exploring a few.
Here are some other suggestions:
Visit the UK Safer Internet Centre for information about lots of social networks
You can also find some guides for parents on the ConnectSafely website.