How can you be sure that your family stays safe on Twitter? We've been talking to the gargantuan social network about how to Tweet without worry...
With almost 300 million active users, Twitter is an online superpower. And when a social network gets that big, it’s sure to attract all sorts of people from all walks of life. With that being the case, and with the site’s main appeal being in its easy, open broadcasting of opinions, how can you be sure that you and your family – specifically younger teens – don’t run into trouble?
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To help steer us all in the right direction, we’ve been speaking to Twitter’s Trust and Safety guru Chris Kark about cyber-bullying, dangerous tweets, and avoiding the pitfalls of living life online…
How to handle bullying
“The ability to share information over vast distances has transformed how we exchange ideas,” says Chris, “opening dialogues between people who would not otherwise interact. But by the same token, it’s made bullying easier and more potent. Bullying can now extend from the classroom onto the victim’s smartphone, and vice-versa.
And it’s for that reason, he explains, that “Twitter doesn’t always use the term ‘cyber-bullying.’” Why? Simple: “Because many incidents of bullying online are extensions of what happens offline. The standard definition of bullying is repeated aggression against another person perceived to be weaker. Social media have not changed the dynamics of bullying, but can amplify them.”
But, as Chris explains, that doesn’t mean that teens should abandon Twitter. Far from it, in fact. We all just have to be smart about how we engage with people, make use of the tools on hand, and learn the different ways in which bullying can be quashed:
“Twitter takes multiple approaches to addressing risks for teens on its platform,” he tells us. “Our Help Centre several articles that describe tools for controlling user experience, such as muting or blocking. Each Twitter user can access these tools to tailor his or her experience, and each plays a role in curtailing abuse. And although Twitter takes action when necessary, it empowers users to combat abuse, either through behavioural means such as using counter-speech against hate or technical means such as blocking a bully.
“The Help Centre contains guidelines for parents, teachers, and teenagers trying to prevent and handle online abuse, and our articles trace a clear boundary between behaviour that an individual can manage him or herself and behaviour that carries legal ramifications.”
The big benefits of social media
And crucially, Chris believes – as do we – that the benefits of social networking sites far outweigh the risks:
“Situations that carry risk can also carry opportunity,” he says. “Social media are a case in point: they enable interactions that were unthinkable a few decades ago, allow us to spread information at breath-taking speeds, and ceaselessly reconfigure how we consume information.
“For teens, social media platforms like Twitter open a door onto the global public square that anyone can access…”
“For teens, social media platforms like Twitter open a door onto the global public square that anyone with an internet connection can access and where teens can encounter an array of perspectives on topics, such as current events, as they unfold in real time. Because social media platforms aggregate content from multiple sites, teens who use those platforms have the opportunity to consult multiple sources, some of which may openly contradict one another.
“This in turn creates an opportunity for teens to learn about different perspectives- and how to examine information critically.”
“Equally important,” he adds, “is how social media enable teens to spend time with friends when and where they choose. They provide a means of socialising when meeting in person isn’t possible, and in this sense it can act as a de facto address book that keeps teens in touch wherever they happen to go. And the same can be said for adults.”
Three top tips
So, with the risks and the gains all weighed up, what’s Chris’s advice for staying safe on Twitter? Here are three solid top tips for parents and teens alike:
1. Think about offline and online as one and the same
“We encourage parents to take their teen’s online relationships as seriously as those they conduct offline,” he says. “Often, they’re one and the same. A teen bullied online may also be bullied by the same person at school or at a regular activity. There’s greater continuity between life online and offline than you might think. Parents should also speak to their teens about their approach to creating, sharing, and commenting on content posted on social media platforms.
2. Protect your tweets
“By default, Twitter accounts are public, which means that users and non-users alike can view a Tweet. Parents uncomfortable with their teen using an open account can opt to ‘protect’ Tweets. This feature removes an account’s content from public view so that no user can view it or find it if they search for it. Users must send a request to the user with a protected account before they can follow it.”
3. Use the Twitter Tools
“The Twitter Tools include muting, blocking, unfollowing, flagging sensitive media, and reporting. Teens can hide a user’s Tweets from their timeline without blocking them by using the mute function. You can also unfollow another user if you no longer want to see their Tweets in timeline. Whether on Twitter or other platforms, blocking is one of the most effective ways to stop a bully. You can use the block function to stop a user from following you, tagging you in photos, or accessing your Tweets.”
But as well as using all the tools at our disposal, Chris urges all families to exercise caution when they’re online:
“Twitter echoes the refrain ‘look before you leap,’” he says. “We urge teens to ‘think before they Tweet. We should all consider what another person would say about our Tweets before posting them. If there’s any suspicion that a teacher or relative would take offense to a piece of content, teens should think twice about tweeting it.”
“While there’s nothing wrong with sharing an idea or expressing an opinion, they can sometimes have unanticipated effects,” Chris says in closing. “And just because we’re responsible for the content we post on Twitter doesn’t mean we control how it’s interpreted or appropriated by fellow users.”