Thursday, 29 April 2010

How Schools Could Use Social Media - Safe Surfing for Kids

I was feeling uninspired and looking for a topic to blog about when I came across a list "100 Blog/Podcast Topics I Hope YOU Write". At number 12 on the list was "How Schools Could Use Social Media" and this reminded me of something I had thought of some time ago. Lets face it, kids nowadays love social networking websites and there are many to choose from. Popularity of websites seem to go through phases or fashions, but no matter what the website, we at some point hear about online bullying or paedophile activity. It is truly shocking and sickening that some human beings can be so twisted and very sad to think that kids are not safe from harm even in their own homes. With the introduction of smartphones, kids can access their social media pages anywhere, anytime without the same parental controls that can be set on home computers. It all got me thinking about why there isn't a safe, secure social networking solution for children and teenagers.

I honestly do not know how possible it would be to set up or implement this idea but I am sure there are many programmers out there who could manage it quite easily. Soicial networking wesites require no verification beyond a valid email address to activate a new account. Anyone can get an email address using false details and from that set up a fake social networking profile. IP addresses are traceable but that is easily gotten around by someone looking to hide their true identity. Many if not all social networking sites have a minimum age requirement for sign-up, but that's just a case of the website owners covering their backs legally by making members check a box which states "I am over 13 years of age" or something to that effect. I know of many kids who have signed up to networking sites whilst underage, yet they have clicked to confirm that they ARE of age and so the website is not legally responsible. Now I'm sure that the programming would be very simple to require a more reliable, traceable verification. My idea is really very simple, a social networking website that is only for kids under 18 years of age and in the education system. Accounts would have to be verified using a unique identifying number that would be given out by the child's school. Clearly schools would have to sign up to the scheme and they would request verification codes which they would then assign to each child and register to their name. The child would then sign up to the website and the verification code/name/details would have to match before an account could be created. In theory that would mean that no adults could create an account - unless of course they were a teacher or parent abusing the system. An additional level of security could be introduced by using facial recognition software or fingerprint logging. Most people nowadays have a webcam either as part of their computer or as a peripheral and facial recognition software could be incorporated into the website. Similarly, many laptops nowadays have fingerprint pads and associated software for securing user accounts and files and again this could be incorporated into the website as part of the sign-in process in addition to or instead of a password. Utilising one or both of these measures would ensure that user accounts on the child-safe social networking site could not be hacked. To allow a child to access their profile from a smartphone, again the facial recognition option could be used.

As for combatting online bullying, that would require 'policing' by the website owners. Surely it would not be too difficult to programme a search function which continually scans posts for inflammatory words or phrases? If any such comments were found, the poster would receive a warning and their posts manually reviewed for a period of time. Repeat offences would result in the account being deleted.

It all sounds good to me in principle and I'm sure that for web designers/programmers it would be rather simple to set up. What I am unsure of is how keen schools would be to get behind such a website that requires admin duties on their part or how keen kids would be to move away from their current social networking sites to one that was more restricted. I do wish that I had the programming knowledge to set this up myself.

I just wanted to add an update to say that this post has made 'Featured Article' over at RedGage

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