I had an involved conversation today with a friend who I know through our love of things equine. But this was not a chat about horses, instead we were discussing whether social networks were a force for good or evil in modern life. My friend has a teenage daughter and is inevitably concerned about the digital world particularly because she doesn’t understand a lot of what is happening under her nose.
My position was, as I have stated in many previous blogs, that the creation of social media has opened up the world. I can now have a conversation with people on the other side of the globe as if they were in the same room; I can collaborate with like-minded people who I would otherwise never have met; and I can now do transactions and much more all through the developments in technology.
I do understand why people are concerned about the impact of social media, as there are obvious risks in doing business virtually. But in essence the same human behaviour that took place face-to-face is now taking place in the digital world. The only difference is that the online allows people to exhibit their behaviour much more easily and in a covert way without giving away their identity or any other personal information. If I meet you in the street I cannot pretend to be someone else, but if I meet you online I might decide to.
The world is changing rapidly and many of our largest institutions are struggling to keep up. I wonder how many schools are investing enough time in making sure that students understand how to keep themselves safe online. In the same way that many years ago I was subjected to presentations about firework safety and sex education in primary school, children should be receiving updates on how to stay safe online. If there are any teachers reading this perhaps they can tell me whether that is happening.
When the telephone was created no-one would have expected that people would be using it to make obscene phone calls, to carry out pressure selling or to commit fraud. But it happens every day. In the same way when social networks were being created people would not have anticipated that bullying, abuse and obscene messages would be sent through them. The common factor is the human behaviour.
If I sat writing a list of the good and bad elements of social media I know that the benefits would be greater. Regardless of whether it is good or evil it is here to stay so the most important thing is that we educate and support people in their use whether they are employees, parents or children.