This is the first in a series of articles about social media and Scouting; here’s a post about youth protection issues, my guidelines for appropriate behavior and content, and some thoughts about what works. Also be sure to read the B.S.A. Social Media Guidelines.
Our Scouts are digital natives; they don’ t know a world without computers and the internet. You and I are likely to be digital immigrants; we were raised and educated in the era before digital technology or during it’s emergence. Writer and educator Mark Pensky explains this in more detail in the 2001 article that coined these terms (PDF version).
We can argue and complain about how technology has altered our lives and whether it is good or bad or we can accept that the world of information, education and communication has fundamentally changed. One challenge for us digital immigrants is those changes keep coming! Once we’ve become conversant with one kind of technology it morphs into something else or is supplanted by the next development. It’s both exciting and frustrating at times.
It’s helped me to view the evolution of social media as I would any other tool. For centuries carpenters cut lumber with a handsaw. Around 1860 a Shaker woodworker imagined putting the teeth of a saw in a circle and the circular saw blade was born. First driven with water power, then steam, then electricity; circular saw blades changed the way things were built. As technology advanced electric motors grew smaller and the hand-held circular saw was invented. Within the past twenty years battery technology advanced to the point where cordless saws became possible.
I still own and use some beautiful old handsaws; they remain best way to do some jobs. I also have a table saw, a corded circular saw, a miter saw and a cordless circular saw; they all have their place in my work. These tools don’t fundamentally change the product, just the means of production. Social media doesn’t change our message it just changes how we publish.
Social media has largely decentralized mass communications. This can be disconcerting to folks who grew up with Walter Cronkite’s grandfatherly evening news telling us what was happening ‘out there’. Now everybody is ‘out there’ telling what is going on and what they think of it. We can’t be passive receivers of information any longer; we have to weigh it’s value, consider the source and verify it’s assertions. This is a big challenge for most of us.
Social media is any technology that allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content. For the purpose of simplicity I’ve divided social media tools into three sub sets:
Defined as applications that publish user-created content publicly. These outlets are self-moderated and self-defined.
Websites are the most familiar tool for publishing information. Websites are usually static displays of content that does not change very often.
Blogs (Web+Log=Blog) publish content on an ongoing basis as ‘posts’ or individual articles. These articles can also be automatically published in other forms as emails, social network posts, etc.
Podcasts are audio or video shows that are published periodically.
Pictures and Video are shared in a vast variety of ways (e.g. Flicker, Picassa, YouTube.)
Tools that invite public exchanges of information. Most social networks have various controls that limit who can see the information shared on them; users have to subscribe or join the net work and, in some cases, obtain specific permission to view information shared by others.
Social Networking Sites (Facebook, etc.) allow general interaction that can be as open or restricted by the users as they see fit. There is minimal to no moderation of the content on these sites.
Forums, Bulletin Boards, Email Lists allow general public interaction to users who join or subscribe. Content shared is usually subject to the apporval of a moderator.
Generally used for one-on-one exchange of information without any outside monitoring.
Email can be public, private or shared.
Texting defined as exchanges over cell phones.
Instant messaging is sending text messages via the web.
Folks already familiar with these tools will immediately recognize that these definitions are simplistic. As innovations are added these tools become more and more indistinguishable and intertwined. This can be confusing and a little daunting; there’s certainly a learning curve to using and mastering any technology; with social media learning and adaptation is constant.
Some basic underlying concepts must be understood before we start applying these technologies to Scouting:
Never Assume Privacy
If it is typed into a computer or cellphone it is traceable and public.
Nothing Goes Away
Once put into digital form online pictures, videos, messages are permanent.
These two facts inform a simple concept of etiquette: Keep in mind what you say or display digitally will potentially be heard, seen or read by everyone you know.
This all sound a little ominous doesn’t it? Don’t be afraid, be informed. There can be unintended consequences of misusing social media but avoiding pitfalls is pretty simple once these things are understood.
Applying social media to Scouting has some unique challenges stemming from issues of youth protection. The central concept of youth protection in Scouting is no exclusively one on one contact between youth and adult members. This is pretty easy to apply outside of the digital world; and it’s equally easy to apply to the digital world once we know how. In my next post we’ll discuss how to apply the concepts of youth protection to social media and Scouting.