Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and a host of others, local and international, have taken over the social and communicative lives of many in Spotify luisteraars kopen modern society. They supplement, and in some cases even replace, the personal contact between family, friends and colleagues. They are open to most age groups, all walks of life and predominantly free of all basic costs. For many younger users, the lack of a presence on one or another of the major networks can be seen as a social failing, an indication that someone is an outsider, socially inadequate or lacking in modern communication skills. They provide an opportunity to make new friends, to meet up, in a virtual world, with others from all walks of life from around the world, with similar interests and hobbies. Social media networks can be targeted for specific interest groups, for certain age groups, for local areas, trades and businesses.
Being open for use by anyone with Internet access, be it over a computer connection or through one of the latest generation of Internet compatible smart phones, there are also a certain number of inherent dangers involved, especially for younger users and those with little or no Internet or social experience. Few of the most popular social media networks currently require any form of identification, be it of actual identity, age or location. One of the results of this lack of verification is that those of an extreme young age, under thirteen, can gain access by providing a false date of birth and, at the opposite end of the scale, those who are considerably older have the ability to create a profile presenting themselves as younger than they really are, with a false name, personality, interests.
Experience in all walks of life is gained primarily through two means: learning by doing; learning by example. The first is more suitable for older Internet or social media users, the second for younger users and minors.
Each social media network or platform has its own quirks, layout, rules and clientele which the user must first learn and adapt themselves to. For the more experienced user this is merely a matter of seeing what is similar to other systems and working through other individual settings and programs. For the inexperienced user, especially those younger users coming into the Internet or in contact with social media networks for the first time, this is a much more complicated experience. The Internet is a completely different society, compared to our daily, real life environment and surroundings, with its own unwritten rules and those who either abide by the rules, break them occasionally or go out of their way to circumvent and avoid all forms of responsible social behavior. Within this last group are those whose sole interest whilst surfing the Internet is to find and make contact with younger, inexperienced users and take advantage of them.
Protection of younger users in the Internet is similar, in many ways, to protection of a child in everyday life. There are certain house and social rules which need to be taught and followed and several which, because of the nature of the Internet, effectively fall outside the normal scope of real life protection. One of these is the simple rule taught to every single child: don’t talk to strangers.
A social media network is, initially, nothing more than a collection of individual strangers looking for new experiences, new friends and even online relationships. Everyone is essentially an unknown commodity, a person who cannot necessarily be seen and whose entire story, character, interests and personality can only be judged by what they have personally entered on the chosen site. Protecting younger users begins, however, before the first profile is viewed and, where possible, before a browser is even pointed at a social network. It begins with educating the younger potential user, explaining to them that trust, for example, is something which needs to be earned rather than given out automatically; that nothing a younger user does on the Internet or in a social media platform should be kept secret; that it is possible to switch a computer off, to block and report those who are offensive, abusive or clearly only interested in finding younger users for sexual or illegal purposes. This is especially important for those social media networks where a web cam may be used, where the connection between users is visible as well as through written communication, status updates and chat rooms. It should also be made clear to younger, less experienced users that personal information, such as home or school address, should not be given to others unless they are personally known, with personally known encompassing only those who the parents and children know outside of the Internet environment.