A New Jersey school principal has sent a strongly worded email to parents asking them to remove their children from social networking sites like Facebook.
Anthony Orsini of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood also asked parents to monitor their children’s text messages and to install parental control software in their computers.
The school’s guidance counselor has been dealing with numerous social networking issues involving the students, said Orsini. Some students have posted inappropriate content on Facebook but when it was brought to their parents’ attention, the latter did not know that their children had a Facebook account. Also, those whose parents found out they were on the popular social network promised their parents they would delete their accounts but did not.
Calling Facebook, MySpace, and Formspring “Internet scourges, ” Orsini noted that most of the students have an account on more than one social networking site.
“Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!” Orsini told parents in the email.
Orsini said there is no reason for any middle school student to join social networking sites and that doing so only exposes the youth to dangers like cyber bullying.
In March, 15-year-old Holly Grogan jumped to her death from a bridge after friends posted abusive messages on her wall. Her parents blamed Facebook for her death.
Last year, 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall was raped and murdered by a 33-year-old man who was posing as an attractive 19-year-old on Facebook.
Orsini said that while his email is not against technology, he believes that social networking is “psychologically detrimental” with possible long-term effects. Young people simply lacked the maturity to deal with a lot of negative things on social networks, he said.
The school official said 90 percent of homeworks don’t need a computer or Internet connection; hence, students should not be allowed to have their own computers in their rooms.
Orsini is clearly putting the onus on parents to protect their children from the dangers of using social networking sites. Sites like Facebook prohibit those under the age of 13 from signing up for an account, but they have no way of verifying if someone is old enough to be a member.
MySpace was sued for $30 million for insufficient measures in protecting young users but a federal judge threw it out. The social network is protected under the Communications Decency Act; hence, it cannot be compelled to verify the age of every user as it would be detrimental to its business, the judge said.
According to the nonprofit organization Pew Research Center which examines global issues and trends, as of September 2009, 73 percent of 12- to 17-year-old American teens who had access to the Internet were members of social networking sites. The figures have risen steadily since 2006.
Parents have the option to restrict their children’s activities on computers through parental controls. Some parents, however, may not want to meddle in their children’s decision to be part of social networking sites but still want to protect the youngsters from the dangers of the Internet. StaySafeOnline.org and Microsoft offer some tips to reduce the risks.
Facebook’s privacy issues
With 400,000 million users (more than the entire population of the United States which is estimated to be at 308 million), Facebook is currently the most popular social networking site. Its ever-changing privacy policies, however, have been the subject of much criticism by parents and privacy watchdogs.
A Sophos poll revealed that 95 percent of 680 respondents are opposed to this policy.
“The results of this poll send out a very clear message to Facebook - its users aren’t happy. Most Facebook users still don’t know how to set their Facebook privacy options safely, finding the whole system confusing and long-winded… (Instead of opting-out, Facebook users) should opt-in — making a conscious choice to engage, rather than having to make a conscious decision to decline, ” said Graham Cluley, Sophos senior technology consultant.
Then, recently, Facebook rolled out Open Graph protocol and Instant Personalization which further raised the eyebrows of privacy advocates.
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