In technology terms my Mum has come a long way in the past ten years. She used to view computers in the same way that I imagine blacksmiths viewed Karl Benz chugging past in his horseless carriage. It was the future, but somehow out of reach and not necessary for now.
Mum works for a successful education consultancy. They find schools and guardianship for overseas students seeking private education in the UK. The nature of her work meant that inevitably she succumbed to using a computer and her confidence quickly built. She has now worn out multiple laptops and printers, set up collaborative work areas, manages a database and more recently started using a Blackberry. I now get reminders about wearing a jumper via Blackberry Messenger.
However social media still eludes her. Or rather, she evades social media. I think this is mainly because she has heard lots of bad stories about Facebook in particular and not having used it herself, she doesn’t see the benefits.
This all came to a head when it transpired that a student had been posting comments about his school and living arrangements on Facebook and generally causing quite a bit of upset.

Westonbirt school in Gloucestershire

School is daunting and the web is a way to escape. This is Westonbirt School in England - nothing to do with the story in this post, but a great photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/

What to do? Mum realised that she couldn’t stop students using social networks (the fact she realised this seemed like quite a good starting point) so I suggested the following:

1. Contact the student in question and ask them to apologise to the people concerned. The comments were very personal and not necessary.

2. Acknowledge social media and offer some guidance. This won’t be the first or the last time that this happens. In fairness to students, if they are not shown any guidance about using social media, then how can they be expected to know any different? There is also a general duty of care that extends to students using the web safely.

3. Publish the guidance on the company website and make it part of the student induction pack.

4. Offer students a space, perhaps a Facebook page, where they can talk online if they want to let off steam or complain. At least by knowing where this space is, and seeing the comments that appear, the company has a chance to respond and deal with any issues.

Here’s the guidance I offered, which is based on some of the specific issues raised by students:

Using Facebook and other websites in a safe and fair way
We understand that you probably use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter every day. They are a great way to stay in contact with friends and family, share photos and experiences, and follow your favourite music, films or groups.
We want you to use and enjoy the internet, but we also want you to be safe and use these spaces in a sensible way.
When you are online, you are responsible for your behaviour in exactly the same way that you are when in school, at home, travelling or out having fun. When you are online you are still an ambassador for your family, your country and your school.
We have created a short guide to help you stay safe and out of trouble when using social network sites like Facebook.
1. Be safe: your online friends should be people you have met and know well. Never agree to meet someone who you have only ever met online.
2. Be secure: never share any personal details such as your address or birthday online.
3. Be fair: if you are upset, angry or frustrated about something speak to someone first. Writing an angry or offensive status update is unhelpful and can be very upsetting if you are talking about someone else.
4. Be responsible: if you have taken a photo or video with people in it, only share the photo or video if the people who appear in it are happy for you to do so. Always ask their permission first.
5. Be honest: always be yourself online. Do not try to hide behind a pretend photo or name.
Tip: before you do anything online, ask yourself ‘would I do this, or say the same thing, in a shop or on a plane?’ If you wouldn’t, then it is not a good idea.
Tip: you can change the privacy settings for sites such as Facebook, to protect some of your details. However, you must not assume that you can say anything just because your profile is private. When you publish something to the internet, it might stay there forever.

I need to find out how far the guidance has gone, but am hoping for an excuse to build a Facebook page in the New Year. Any amends or additions to the guidance gratefully received.