Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General for England and Wales, said that children should receive an education on how to safely use Twitter. The comments came after several high-profile women in the UK received a string of threatening tweets, which forced Twitter to change how it handles abuse on the micro-blogging site. The most famous case was Caroline Criado-Perez, who was sent hundreds of rape threats after successfully campaigning to put novelist Jane Austen on the 10 pound note.
Grieve said: “All you need is a teacher who is inspirational and sensible and you can easily do it and say ‘what are the rules about using social media?’ I think that’s quite an interesting idea.”
But what exactly would youngsters need to know to responsibly use Twitter? Here are four things that all young people should know before they send their first tweet.
1) Scary People Are Online
In the online world, absolutely anyone, anywhere can join in the conversation. Even some unsavory characters who want to use it as forum for abuse and a tool for fraud. Some might just be “trolls” looking to get attention for themselves. Other people might want to deceive you in order to rob you or commit even worse crimes. While some dangerous people can be spotted by performing an online background check, others can completely hide behind the anonymity that the Internet provides. Trust shouldn’t be given too easily to anyone you meet online.
2) Don’t Publicly Over Share
Twitter isn’t like Facebook or Google+, where you can only share what you post to a few people (ideally). Twitter doesn’t really have any privacy settings, so everything that you tweet will be publicly available for everyone who wants to see it. That includes the police, all your future employers, and your dear Grandma Sue. So don’t share something that you wouldn’t feel comfortable announcing to everybody in the world. Once you release something out onto the Internet, it can never be taken back.
3) Bullying Online Is Still Bullying
Poking fun of people online might seem more harmless than doing it to someone’s face, but the effects of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake is much more damaging than harmless fun. Particularly in teen years, when people are most eager for their peers’ approval, exclusion, mockery, and shame hurt badly. In more than one case, the targets of persistent online bullying have even killed themselves.
[Suggested reading: How to Protect Children from Cyber Bullying]
4) There Can Be Real World Consequences For What You Say Online
The online world isn’t separate from the real world. Police take threats of violence seriously, whether they are made face-to-face or on Twitter. A single threatening comment might get you placed in handcuffs. You may simply be trying to blow off steam when you make a threatening comment, but the authorities may not see it that way.
Teens are migrating to Twitter in droves, but many who choose to interact with their peers this way often don’t appreciate the risks and dangers that come with an online presence. If school-age children can really understand the power of a tweet, online communication might be more respectful and less dangerous.
[Image credit: Tom Raftery, Flickr]