Chapter Sixteen: Social Media Sites and Their Lingo

There are almost infinite social media and networking sites on the Internet today that both children and adults utilize. Familiarizing yourself with the websites and what they each do can help you understand their lingo and let you navigate through them for yourself, or for your child’s safety, with more ease.

In today’s rapidly-changing digital age, kids still communicate with their friends, but mostly online. Facebook posts, status updates, likes, shares, comments, instant messages, video chats, tweets, video and photo uploads, and texts have become the norm in children’s lives. With easy access to home and personal computers, as well as smart phones, kids are growing up with advanced technology surrounding them at all times. Familiarize yourself with the websites your child uses so that you can better communicate with them and monitor their activities without being completely blind to the website’s potential for danger.

Virtual Worlds

Even before children are able to read fluently, they begin using the Internet to play games, share pictures and videos, and even live in virtual worlds. While most parents of young children now considered themselves lucky to have digital pets, kids now can instantly connect with friends over a computer screen. At around age eight, kids start to explore virtual worlds. These virtual worlds let them dress and decorate a makeshift home for their virtual avatar, who they adopt, care for, and play games with. Kids buy things on the website through online "coins" that they earn by playing games. They can also participate in a number of other community-based games to gain coins with others. There is also an established "online newspaper" with updates to their virtual world that encourages children to read, and secret agent missions that require kids to crack codes, solve puzzles, and replicate patterns.

Social Media for children

Children communicate with those in their community, who are mostly other children behind the computer screen. Parents can rest assured that their child is communicating with other children on a website if, when kids sign up, they are required to show proof of age and get parental approval before playing games. They also should not share any photos or any other content on the site other than play games and chat with sentences, and not pictures. What is good about these websites is that there is an instant messaging tool created by linguists that is similar to the auto-complete feature of text messages. In these chat rooms, players begin to type a sentence, and a drop down menu appears where kids can then complete their sentences with more than 300,000 approved phrases. If they do not choose any words from the approved list, their phrase goes into a special queue that is to be approved or banned by the site moderators. The newest update of this feature also limits players from sneaking around using blocked words by also recognizing different and unique spellings of restricted words. These sites also feature parental control tabs that allow parents to manage their child’s memberships by managing their chat settings, screen time, and their overall activities and communications with others. Some examples of popular virtual world websites for kids ages 7-9 include Club Penguin, Poptropica, Innerstar University, Space Heroes Universe, and MoshiMonsters.

Websites for older children

There are also popular websites for older children in their tweens, around the ages of 11-14, that allow them to be on safe social networking and media websites that mimic the less filtered sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some examples of these are KidzWorld, ScuttlePad, Yoursphere, Kidsocial, and iTwixie.  These sites give tweens a safe glimpse into social networking and media websites with staff moderators that approve photos, videos, and articles that kids post and write. Many of them have specific filtration software that monitors comments, forums, and blogs created by the kids in the community. Just like many of the gaming sites, a lot of these social networking sites have approved content that is automatically approved. Some of the sites have monitors that can pick up on things that were not previously approved by the site, and the sites then immediately send it off to staff members for approval. These sites offer more "real-life" experiences for the users than the gaming sites discussed previously, as they offer live chat rooms (monitored by staffers), news stories, and articles about celebrities, sports, games in line with teen interests, blogs, and profiles. With these websites, the kids are the creators of content, giving them more say in what information gets displayed. Many of them require that in order for kids to create a profile, they must first give notice to parents and obtain parental approval to use the site and create content. From there, parents can monitor their child’s activities and implement blocks on certain content.  There are several categories on these websites that teens can utilize, and since they are essentially run by the teens and their interests, it is likely that teens will love these fun, yet safe, sites for browsing!

Networking websites for older children and adults

For older children and adults, there are so many different networking sites that are available that it’s astonishing. For example, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram are only some of the biggest to name a few – there are hundreds of thousands of others. While there are available account settings that help protect your privacy on these sites, there is still a greater risk of connecting with a potential child abuser, kidnapper, abductor, and even an identity thief on these sites than on websites such as the ones mentioned earlier meant for younger children. For this reason, it is important to limit your child’s time on these websites and expose them to the potential risks the pages pose, as well as monitor their activity. Familiarizing yourself with these websites can help you navigate them more easily to find out what they’re doing and how to help protect them. For starters, one must first understand that Facebook is the number one social networking site in the world, with more than 1 billion active users as of January 2014. This means that the more users there are, the more networking abilities become available and the greater the chances are of connecting with strangers.

Potential dangers of Facebook for children

Facebook is essentially a social networking site that allows users to create profiles with their personal information, pictures, and interests. On what is called a "newsfeed," which is the personalized homepage for the site, users can post statuses, articles, pictures, and music for their friends to see. These postings are shared across Facebook newsfeeds to those people who are friends with the people posting the links. It is up to the user’s discretion to post the type of information about themselves that they want. Users can search for other people in their area, type in certain names, look through other people’s profiles, or search groups and interests pages to try to connect with others.

If a profile is not set up as private, almost anyone can send a message, look through pictures, or even find out where someone lives. It is very important to monitor your child’s activities while on Facebook, or at the very least, have them set their account settings to private so that no one can search for their name, and only they can request friends, and not vice versa. Due to the astonishingly high percentage of millennials (aged 15-34) that use Facebook (66%), the amount of sexual predators who contact young children in hopes of seducing them has drastically increased. Many predators begin by messaging children, sending them virtual "gifts," "poking" them, and even by sending them links and photos of inappropriate sites to visit. Though Facebook gifts exist as a means to simply give someone a present for their birthday or for an occasion, predators use this as a means to groom the child. Facebook "poking" is a feature on the homepage that allows users to "poke" each other back and forth – essentially it is supposed to send a message to the user that someone poked them to get their attention. Some individuals may even start a "poke war," which simply means to click the poke button back and forth to each other. Predators can also use this as a way to groom your child to establish a friendly, "trusting," or "flirty and fun" relationship.

One of the most prominent features of Facebook is the ability to post so-called "statuses." A status is (now) a 63,206-character limit of anything anyone wants to post. Users most often post about their days, what’s on their minds, jokes, pictures, videos, news articles and use them as ways to advocate for change. Facebook is very mathematical in posting users’ statuses to other’s homepages. Most people do not see all of their friend’s statuses on their homepage because Facebook has carefully analyzed people’s activity on the site and has calculated who they interact with, whose page they visit most, and whom they communicate with more often than others. Not only does Facebook monitor whom you talk to, the newest feature on Facebook features paid ads that offer goods and services in congruence with your interests posted on your page, through your search history, and even items you have searched for through your Internet browser.

Games are another feature on Facebook that many kids utilize. Some are played privately, but some can be played against other Facebook users. Again, the kinds of users one can play against can be configured in account settings. Most often, privacy settings are set to only share game information with pre-approved friends, but the safest way for kids to play games is to keep them completely and totally private at all times.

Other than communicating with friends (or even strangers), Facebook gives its users the autonomy to post pictures on their profiles for all to see. Of course, there are account settings that limit this option, but if they are not configured correctly, pictures, statuses and interests are public for anyone to see. It is important to always manage these account and privacy settings, especially for younger children using Facebook, to help protect them and their identities online from strangers. If these settings are not changed, anyone can search the groups that you or your child belong to and can "like" their photos, comment on them, and even private message you or your child and start an online relationship! This is why it is essential that privacy settings are maintained and always monitored. You wouldn’t want any stranger "liking" or "sharing" your child’s photo over the Internet, so help keep it private and remember to educate your children on Internet safety and manage their time spent online.

Dangers  of YouTube

YouTube is another popular website that many kids use to not only be consumers of the media, but to also contribute to the craze. YouTube allows users to comment, create and share videos across the website. Whether they are movie clips, music videos, cooking videos or home videos, anyone with an account can post videos for anyone to see. Many people are posting videos of them and their friends dancing, playing sports, hanging out, or even drinking and partying. Many parents and other groups are attempting to establish specific age specifications for certain videos that may contain graphic content or violence, but with YouTube, it is fairly easy for kids to sneak past these blocks by simply creating an account and specifying their age as over 18. Monitoring your child’s computer and Internet use can effectively protect them from serious issues such as cyberbullying, which is known to be very prevalent on YouTube.

Other

Smaller websites such as Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram are still popular among teens and adults, but have fewer users than Facebook and YouTube combined. While Tumblr and Instagram function mainly off of people sharing their pictures, Twitter allows its users to "tweet," which are essentially status updates that can include pictures. For these websites, it is important to educate your children on what is appropriate to post and what is not because users of these sites are targets for bullies. What your child may think is cute or funny may be a potential target for a bully, so it is important that children know what to do about bullying – such as inform you, avoid posting informative pictures, and/or take your advice and monitoring seriously. 

In all, the use of social media and networking sites is rising exponentially not only for adults, but also for kids and teens. These sites are getting more and more interactive, and keeping up to date with them can be hard. Your kids and teens learn the nuances of each site more easily because they usually spend more time on them, which also increases the risk of them being bullied or communicating with an online predator. Using these websites yourself can help you truly understand their inner workings, but talking to your kids about what’s going on in their lives on these sites is just as important. Just as with technology itself, it is necessary to stay up to date with social networking sites in order to be in the know of your kid’s activities.

Online safety tips for kids

Here are some risky online decisions that you should warn and talk to your child about: