Blogging for and about Youth Work and Young People

Recently I’ve been having a look at some Social Networking Sites that colleagues have set up and came across an interesting conundrum (or at least I thought it was!). A youth provision had set up a Bebo site that has attracted a reasonable number of young people. I looked around the site and then thought I’d see what sort of access the young peoples’ profiles had (as education in this area is something I think we need to work on with youth workers). On clicking on a young persons profile I went through to their page and a whole set of photographs. I felt that one of the photos was inappropriate – it was of a sign saying ‘gay’ with an arrow pointing at another young person who had their back turned away. There were a few, not particularly nice, jokes in the comments section following this.

Courtesy of didbygraham

Courtesy of didbygraham

So the question I was left with was what, if anything, do I about this? Mike Amos Simpson has previously raised questions about how far we encroach into young people’s spaces and this crossed my mind. After all it wasn’t directly on the site managed by us.

However this didn’t sit comfortably with me. I was then talking with a colleague about social media in general and this topic came up. In discussion we concluded that this was roughly equivalent to when you’re driving a minibus full of young people to an event and they’re all chatting and you overhear an in appropriate comment. In this sort of situation you would find the right time to talk with the individual concerned about their comments on the bus and chat about your thoughts / their thoughts about what was said. So in this situation maybe I need to raise it with the youth worker managing the bebo site and then ask them to raise it with the individual concerned (and also talk to them about how they might want to manage their profile online)? Has anyone else come across this? What have you done in similar situations, or do you have any other thoughts and suggestions?

In conclusion for me this links in well to Mike’s recent post about “Why you shouldn’t use Social Media with Young People”, especially the part about thinking through how you are going to manage the site and the ‘what if’ scenarios.

Comments on: "The Online Conversation in the back of the bus!" (11)

  1. love that title! I think its a good comparison too – in both cases I think there’s a need for clear expectations, so most likely the group in the bus belongs to a group where its understood that prejudice isn’t acceptable and therefore its relatively easy to have that conversation. In terms of how to have the conversation in real life that’s always a flexible thing – sometimes you challenge it immediately, sometimes you do so discretely with the individual, other times you use it to provoke a debate – all dependant on the circumstances and the relationship you have with the individual and others present.

    Online some of that isn’t so easy, as an open debate is still going to be taken personally. Another comparison to the offline world is that usually in our work with young people we are taking them on a journey – a journey where we are more tolerant of certain attitudes and mistakes they may make in the early days, but as they progress in time with us we expect them to progress in attitudes too so we become more firm if they do stray as time goes on – again online this isn’t maybe so easy. Do people realise this is a new person that doesn’t get the groundrules yet? Is it possible to build a relationship online in a similar ‘guiding’ kind of a way? (I know from experience the answer to that is yes – but it takes considerable time) – so maybe the thing here is that there needs to be consideration to the skills of the worker responsible for that site – are they able to effectively build online relationships?

    But back to the example – providing the group had clear rules saying that inappropriate pictures would not be tolerated (and stipulating what that means) – its easy enough to contact the person and have a one to one discussion (while asking the picture is removed).

    Whether they choose to or not though is up to them, so the important thing here is to check whether when you set up a group you have the ability to remove members (and that you know how) should it get to that stage.

  2. It is a tricky area. I think the minibus analogy is stretching it as it presumes the youthworker responsibilty for the young people’s personal sites.

    If a youth centre has a Bebo site then they are responsible for managing all content and should know how to remove offensive comment directly. I think any youth centre working with social media should have a programme for discussing internet safety and online presence with their young people as a matter of course. Hopefully this should cover the use of language and attitudes to people.

    I heard one colleague tell of a time they received a Bebo or similar application from a young girl questioning what their favourite kamasutra position was. With discreet questioning of parents it transpired the girl did not realise what the kamasutra was!

    Whether or not you should tell the worker – then for me the answer is yes. We can only check so often or see so much and if other eyes spot something it is worth informing the worker so they can consider the best way to raise the issue with the young person.

  3. After a restless night thinking over this analogy I came up with a different way of representing what happens on Bebo or myspace etc:

    It’s a bit like being a detached worker going into a nightclub where the owners may have rules about age or conduct but they rarely enforce them. Everyone in the club is busy doing their own thing – showing off to their peers, talking to mates, having private parties – and the detached worker interfaces with individuals in a range of different groups.

    In this scenario – although the worker can encourage his contacts to “keep it clean” and to generate conversations about behaviour and how we treat others – they cannot enforce their own moral or ethical stance.

    Working in Bebo means that as youth workers we need resources that we can give out to help educate, to enlist young people as champions for good behaviour and role models we can point to.

    I remember in an earlier post you referred to a youtube video about YOF which I promptly put onto a bebo site. We need lots more of this kind of thing that we can circulate and pass on to help us work within this environment.

  4. I can understand what you’re saying Chris but this sits uneasily with me and I’m not sure if we can abdicate our responsibilities so easily.

    In the detached scenario you quote you would still engage or disengage depending on the circumstances.

    If you have an online site that you are running where young people join as members and someone clicks on another members profile where there is explicit or inapproriate material then we surely have some responsibility to a) be working with the individual that is showing this material and b) monitor what access / signposting we give to young people joining the site, including other members.

    As Mas points out, there do need to be ground rules and I do think that as workers we can discuss what is acceptable to be a member of an online site that we are running (just as we would in a youth centre). This means discussing pictures / language. Ultimately the young person then has a choice then how to operate thier own personal profile and whether they want to be a member of our particular site.

    Overall I’m not saying that we have a responsibility for the young peoples individual profiles but we do have a responsibility for ensuring that we do up hold the values of the youth service both on and offline.

  5. I agree completely with your last statement. I am just concerned about the practicality of monitoring the profiles of all the young people who could become friends of a youth wing site. On that basis I have as you know started playing with a ning site to see what can be locked down and it seems
    to offer a lot more control.

    There is obviously a lot of things to consider with social media – which is moving faster than we can engage with …

  6. Good blog, I read Mas’ blog as well and I am interested to hear what people think about the use of social networks in youth work.

    I think the issue of intent is key: what is your intent for using the site? Is is to be cool and/or relevant… or is it to support the work you are already doing (advertise times & dates you are open etc).

    I think it is not worth attempting unless you are computer literate and genuinely interested yourself in whatever platform you have chosen (facebook/bebo/etc). It is a well known fact that social networks are a part of the new online conversation… if you are not regularly on your site (hourly rather than daily or weekly) noobody can converse with you and the conversation stops. That is when you leave yourself open to logging in and discovering innapropriate materials posted on your wall etc.

    Thanks for getting people talking about this!

  7. Thanks for your comment David and for dropping by. I agree with you about intent…..I think that we perhaps start sites without being that clear about our intent or indeed what the issues are that we may face in operating the site. This topic has already brought about some interesting conversations with colleagues.

  8. Great blog and some thought provoking comments. As someone using Bebo in my work with young people I have always felt that the night club scenario that Chris outlines is closer to the online situation with Bebo. I also agree with Davids point about intent. It is very easy to want a website just because everyone and everything seems to have a www-dot…

    For me working with young people in rural areas for short time periods, Bebo is a great way of staying in touch with young people who we no longer work with, informing young people of times, places, events etc and sharing/celebrating achievements.

    As far as what is appropriate goes, my thinking thus far has been that the young people using Bebo have signed up to use Bebo and are happy to subscribe to their rules so simply adding me as their ‘friend’ does not mean that I can impose my rules regarding their profiles or photos. There are many things that I see online that I would challenge if a young person was in my club but perhaps not if they were simply passing me on the street or chatting in a night club.

    Having said this I am aware that young people love using the internet to shock and sometimes offend. Using sites like Bebo does mean that we run the risk of being caught up in their shock tactics! The flip side of this ‘risk’ is that we can use what we see online to inform our conversations with young people and affect change.

    Your thoughts most welcome. This is new to us all!

  9. I quite like the nightclub analogy – I don’t fully agree with it as an approach but its a good way of thinking about the difficulties of entering into somebody elses or a neutral space.

    Why I don’t agree with it as an approach is that I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s encountered young people they work with in a nightclub – when I did I didn’t “youth work” them – I smiled, said hello, avoided being bought a drink and moved on.

    If on the other hand I was a detached worker seeking to engage young people in that nightclub I would have first sought the permission of the clubs owner. I might then have asked the DJ to promote me, I would have taken along some literature to hand out or something with my details. Would I have criticised young people about their appearance? no. Would I have challenged them if I felt something they said was inappropriate? Yes – and frankly I don’t think enough people do! Would I have hung around if a young woman came over and flirted with me or removed her top? no.

    And then of course would I even have decided to try and do youth work in a nightclub in the first place? no – but then there are projects for whom it may make sense – we did for a time used to run teenage nights in a nightclub and we did have workers from sexual health and drug advice agencies at those – in their cases they were there for a very specific reason so its much easier for them to focus on what they’re there to do and perhaps overlook some other things that are not their concern/priority.

    I think theres lots there thats relevant to using a site like Bebo. Firstly are you allowed to use the site in the way you’re intending to? (is it within their terms and conditions? possibly a grey area), secondly what is your strategy for using it and therefore what is your focus in relation to making contact with young people?

    For the thing about young people using ‘shock tactics’ that depends what they are. If this involves posting offensive/discriminatory material thats in breach of Bebo’s own terms anyway and much like you’d advise against illegal behaviour it would seem to make sense that you advise against behaviour that is breaking the rules of that space.

    I think stuff like suggestive photos is more difficult – much like clothing what is normal to some is too revealing for others, but if you felt the behaviour of a young person was potentially putting them or others at risk you have an obligation to take some form of action – this should be the same with online behaviours – the challenge here I think is being able to get workers using social media to the point where they’re experienced/comfortable/familiar enough with the online world to be able to make judgements online in the way they can offline.

    I think the point about being literate and genuinely interested is a good one – although as time goes on I think roles will need to develop to accommodate youth workers who are not ‘digital experts’ but none the less use the web as a tool in their work.

    Loads of good stuff here to help inform how the future of ‘digital youth work’ might develop and good to see more & more people joining the conversations.

  10. The trouble with any analogy is when you try to stretch it to fit all circumstances. Clearly the nightclub idea gives some sense of the difficulties in Bebo – but I’m going to leave it behind in my further thinking.

    The posts here have really got me thinking. I have started to speak with some young people about the issues raised here – “Do I have a right to challenge what people have on their Bebo sites?” Still too close to call but I think the balance seems to be on the side of challenging unacceptable behaviour. I also like the idea on the UK Youth Online blog about putting up positive behaviour rules and guidance.

    It was David’s comment that got me really thinking … if we need to be checking our sites not just weekly, or daily but hourly then that is going to become rapidly impractical. I haven’t yet started promoting my own centre’s site in a major way because I am still experimenting and trying things out. Even so, there are something like 15 friends out of a potential of over 70 regular users. What will the demands be on checking profiles hourly be?

    Certainly I hope to get some discussions going over the next few weeks with young people to see how they can help me with thinking about our approach online.

  11. Sorry I’ve not commented for a while but I’m really enjoying this conversation – have to work out how to have more of them in the future!

    I think one of the areas that struck me in Jonnys’ comment was whether we are asking young people to become our ‘friends’ (ie we want to join your space) or are they asking to become our ‘friend’ – they want to join our space.

    I know that trying to define online spaces may be difficult but if I have an online profile for a youth centre / project / provision, then I still maintain the responsibility for managing that space which includes who and how I engage with who ever wants to ‘join’. If young people want to join this space (regardless of the main providers terms and conditions) then I think that I can and should determine what are acceptable pictures or comments (including working with them on their profiles, as I would offline if someone was continuously ‘breaking’ the clubs rules). What I do think is important is that these ‘rules’ are stated up front so that YP know how we operate.

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