I’ve been thinking a lot about social media over the years. Mainly because some of what I have seen has not been good. And this month we are all being reminded to #bekind and to think about what we say to people online from behind our keyboards or devices. We have seen, again, the real and dramatic consequences of unthinking and unkind online content.
Some social media use in my work sector has been unprofessional, disrespectful and unhelpful. It has not presented our profession in the way it should, it has not reflected our leadership, tolerance and commitment to equality. On reading such material, I often wonder if it would pass the test against the British Values we are tasked with promoting. Those standards of mutual respect and tolerance, democracy, rule of law, and individual liberty.
Yes, we all have individual liberty to express our own thoughts in a democracy, for freedom of speech, and to lobby and hold people to account. But language choices, should always be respectful and tolerant of difference. We all have a profound responsibility to be advocates of anti-bullying behaviours that support everyone’s self-esteem, wellbeing and personal safety.
I use social media, Twitter mainly, in a professional capacity to highlight best practice, share news and information, and to share information about what is happening in early years. Across early years and childcare settings I am aware that Facebook has become a popular way of networking and debating between practitioners, and to communicate with parents. Clearly, social media is something increasingly integrated into personal and professional lives. The need for best behaviour and boundaries has never been bigger.
We usually refer to social media in our child protection and safeguarding training. This is generally around supporting practitioners and leaders to consider the impact of team members using it. The case of Vanessa George is discussed and how social media was used by her and others. Accepting parents from the setting as friends or followers on platforms like Facebook or Instagram is usually a hot topic. In small communities such friendships either pre-date or emerge during their time using the setting. This is important to contemplate as it is all about the difference between personal and professional boundaries. In many settings, the position is one of absolute intolerance to such boundary challenges. In others, it’s considered okay as long as there is no discussion about work or the setting. Our usual guidance is that staff should always think ‘would I want my manager or a parent to read this – and how would they respond?’
There is no specific reference to social media in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), probably as it is an emerging issue. Instead, the focus is on limiting mobile telephones and cameras – both devices that are inextricably linked to social media, as they facilitate one’s access to, or the posting of material for social media.
What may start with a seemingly harmless social media posting may be the start of something more significant; the beginning of a ‘slippery slope’. For young people, there is an emerging body of evidence about the harm thoughtless postings can cause, including mental health issues being increased by social media use, notably from the NSPCC (2016) who found increases in low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and depression. The pace and range of how such public information can be shared is staggering. Within seconds, your close or even closed contacts can be sharing your postings with their own open groups, and before you know it, your comments and images could be on the device of your employer, parents using your setting, children, work colleagues or even the local media. It is something to be managed very carefully indeed.
A different version of this blog first appeared in Teach Early Years Magazine.