Every time I think I’ve seen the back of them, one takes me by surprise. Facebook is usually the medium of choice. They always have plenty of likes and shares. And I always have the same reaction of frustration and a feeling of disappointment that yet another person has missed the point.
The subject of my ire is the social media post that usually consists of a teacher holding up a bit of card displaying a message that goes along the lines of “Please share this! I want to teach my class how quickly things spread on the internet. Please leave a comment including where you’re from so we know how far it’s travelled.”
OK, when this first happened a few years ago, it was an original idea and resulted in the desired outcome – lots of shares and comments from around the world. Children could see that a post on the internet has the ability to spread fast and far, and that they should bear this in mind when using social media themselves. Job done.
Quite why countless people have attempted to replicate the idea is beyond me. It’s been done – use those examples. We don’t all need to take a photo of ourselves, do we?
I’m not even sure that those posting the pictures are thinking about what they want to get from the exercise: a recent one I spotted promised that the teacher would check up on the progress of how much the picture had been shared in two weeks. Two weeks? This is the equivalent of geological time on the internet, as @oliverquinlan pointed out in the comments.
But if we want to teach children about the viral nature of social media and why they shouldn’t overshare, what other options are there?
Well, telling the story of how quickly posts can spread is simple, using examples such as the original photo-sharing projects. However, what we also need to focus on is the human impact of this kind of oversharing. Sure, the numbers are one thing, but what can actually happen when it goes a bit wrong?
I also think work should done with young people on what to do if they do overshare online because the reality is that it is going to happen to at least one 13-year-old somewhere and just doing an exercise involving the numbers isn’t going to help them.
The work of Southwest Grid for Learning has always appeared particularly forward-thinking when it comes to this. Its resource, So You Got Naked Online (bit.ly/SharingOnlineResource), offers strategies and advice for children, young people and parents following sexting incidents. It tackles head on the issue of a young person losing control over what they’ve shared online.
So yes, by all means marvel at the numbers of viral posts shared by teachers with your class and impress the importance of thinking about what they share upon them, but let’s also all think about what comes after that. After all, numbers rarely tell the whole story, do they?
Claire Lotriet is a teacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She tweets at @OhLottie and blogs at clairelotriet.com