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When is a Facebook Friend not Really a Friend 

"Back in the day" I could name, identify and give you a full address and background on all of my Friends. In fact, I'd have everyone of them over to my house and left alone without as much as a second thought. Fast-forward 30 years to today and to the new definition of a Friend. The gap between who Baby Boomers (and older) and Gen Y/Millenials consider as a "Friend" is enormous. According to many students, the above criteria simply isn't required anymore to Add someone as a Facebook Friend and is instead considered old-world, stodgy thinking. And as much as there is opportunity in expanding one's networks and sphere of influence, with the lowering of the bar comes tremendous, sometimes irreversible personal and professional risk.

 

This blog looks specifically at student behaviour on Facebook. For the record, I enjoy Facebook immensely, use it daily, and see sizeable opportunities to connect with the people and organizations that matter most to me. With that said, for the past three years I‘ve educated students, parents, teachers and administrators in elementary and secondary schools throughout Ontario on most every aspect of Facebook including how to wisely choose Facebook Friends. The one aspect, however, that comes back again and again is the staggering number of Facebook "Friends" most students accept and Add. And as much as Facebook is about connecting, with many students it is about popularity and social acceptance with the words "How many Friends do you have," often heard in schools everywhere.

 

The primary reason that a Facebook-generated bullying incident grows so prolifically and out-of-control is due to the rabid and indiscretionary adding of Facebook Friends to one's list. With the average Facebook Friend count of students in grades 4-8 typically exceeding 160, and secondary school students well over the 700-Friend mark, the most frequent question I receive at every school presentation involves some aspect of either content theft to their own Facebook Profile, or the manipulation of that content within their profile. In many cases, students naively share their online password with their Best Friend Forever (BFF) only to have the BFF turn on them through a fight or other argument. And today, for many students, Facebook is the preeminent vehicle with which to quickly and effectively "take care of business" with someone who has ticked us off.

 

Here are some simple but dynamic steps to minimize privacy breaches and overexposure on Facebook.

 

Choose your Facebook Friends wisely using this evaluative question; "If I add this person to my list of Friends, would I trust them to the level of leaving them alone in my own home with full access to mine and my family's information and possessions."

 

It's easy to create a fraudulent Facebook profile in the name of another person. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) suggest that you physically phone the person wanting to add you as a Facebook Friend to verify that the request is authentic.

Revisit your Facebook Friends list and remove Friends from your list that you don't know. Many students add Friends because they're simply 2nd, 3rd or even 4th-generation acquaintances that "so-and-so knows from somewhere" who  are not remotely connected to them. If you remove a Friend Connection, Facebook does not notify the person that's been removed. My response when asked "what happens if they find out I've removed them" is that chances are they won't notice because you're not their Friend anyway - and they're busy, as you are, communicating with their real Friends most of the time.

 As with every generation, the future for our kids is tremendously bright and filled with opportunities that we'll never see. They are truly digital natives and in most cases, can run circles around us with the tools available to them. At the same time, the risks are large and the consequences sometimes unforgiving in the absence of caution and conservative actions. If we're able to instill within our kids some of our old-world stodgy caution with their criteria of who is trustworthy inside of fabulous environments like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging and more, they will survive and thrive to a level that will leave us, simply, wondering how they did it.

SocialMedia Trust

 

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