Although social networking has been enthusiastically embraced by large numbers of children and young people, their schools and colleges have been more cautious, and often concerned about the implications for online safety. Social networking used by young people is considered here as part of a trajectory of online practices which began with personal Web sites in the mid 1990s and continued through the use of interactive services to the networking sites familiar today. The response of the education system is examined through interview and anecdotal evidence, and with reference to a growing body of research in this and allied areas. It is concluded that social networking has initiated a series of practices which cannot now be abandoned, and that the challenge for the education system is not control or abolition but the inclusion of social networking appropriately within teaching and learning.
Social Networking And Young People
Social networking has developed rapidly since 2003 and its use by young people has been characterised by successive waves of enthusiasm and ever-changing allegiances. Early alliances with MySpace have given way, for the most part, to institutionally-based networks such as Bebo or culturally-marked sites such as Facebook. At the time of writing, MySpace is seen by many young people in the UK as being more appropriate for younger children, with Bebo having a strong presence within youth in educational institutions and Facebook mostly catering for the late teen and young adult middle class user. This breakdown should be seen as a snapshot in time, however, and, during the period in which this chapter was written, the increasing take-up of Facebook by young professionals has led to a slowing down of its adoption by school-age youth.
It is interesting to note the differing degrees of anonymity in these systems, with the early and largely-anonymised MySpace giving way to Facebook and its supposed use of real names at all times. The youngest children of all have only recently begun to use social networking through systems such as Club Penguin, recently purchased by Disney in a sign of the financial potential of this area of the online market.
Making assumptions about the relative standing of different social networking sites can be a difficult process. Sites which are seen as of great importance and are sought-after one year can then be demoted the next, as is to be expected with a medium which is closely linked with other areas of youth interest such as music and fashion. One of us is an experienced social networking user and explains further, taking issue with some of the assumptions in the popular and academic press.
I’d say MySpace has a particular type of teenage interest, not younger. Also, it focuses on more arty people to a certain extent – …[there is a] music function, and there are video and other places to display your own work. It also lets you modify your page to make it look how you like, …but personally I find that extremely annoying. I don’t like how you cannot read information about people, because it’s in a ridiculous font or too small, or because of the photo behind it all due to someone’s bad coding. That’s what I like about Facebook, you can easily read what people have written about themselves. The day that Facebook changes that is its downfall!
Also, Facebook is much more institutionalised. It used to be the case that you had to have a school, college or university email in order to have an account on it. They’ve changed that now. It’s based around schools, colleges and Unis and where you come from, different networks.
In addition to these wide-ranging general social networking sites, users have the opportunity to align themselves to owned social networks such as Friendlink.