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Expert Tips to Help Students Protect Their Privacy as They Navigate Social Media and Technology

Blog Post Thumbnail - Teacher showing Teenager how to use Social Media safely

How can students protect themselves both online and offline? Social media is more than just a place to share memes and selfies - it can also be a bank of our personal interests, tracked behaviors, and passwords. With the average student having 1,300 photos of them shared online by the age of 13 - cybersecurity has never been more important for students, families, and educators.

Here are The Social Institute, we are on a mission to empower students to navigate both social media and technology in ways that support their well-being. To this end, we recently huddled up with Lisa Plaggemier, Executive Director of the National Cybersecurity Alliance, to explore ways educators can empower their students to be savvy as they navigate their online worlds and safeguard their digital well-being.

What to know when it comes to privacy

It’s important to recognize that privacy and security issues are not going away. As Lisa shares, “Most of us go our entire life not thinking about it [privacy] until something bad happens.” But what if we took a proactive approach and empowered students to develop healthy habits online?

Lisa shares that we are still in the infancy of “the information age.” Technology is at the stage where everyone is still excited it exists. Every time a new technology emerges, there is excitement about its potential benefits. However, there are often security risks associated with it, which are not always apparent at first.

For instance, in just one week of its release, ChatGPT surpassed over one million users and garnered considerable attention for its positive contributions. But, as Lisa shared, just a few days after its introduction, there were concerns raised about its negative impact. One example of this is how cybercriminals could use it to write malware and create malicious programs that could steal valuable personal data from websites.

And it’s not just ChatGPT that poses a potential threat. Anytime we enter our personal data into a website, we run the risk of someone exploiting that data. In fact, Twitter, Chick-fil-A, PayPal, T-Mobile, and more have disclosed data breaches that already happened in 2023.

But there is good news. There are actionable steps we can take to keep our students’ information safe online.

How can educators empower students to protect their privacy online?

When we take a proactive approach and teach students how to protect their personal information online, we not only educate them but empower them to navigate their online worlds safely and securely. Check out these strategies that Lisa shares on how you can empower your students to protect themselves online:

  1. Secure your passwords with a reliable password manager

    1. A password manager is a platform that manages your usernames and passwords (think a data vault).

  2. Utilize multi-factor authentication

    1. This adds an extra layer of security and sends a user a one-time code to a secure email account or phone number that they have to enter whenever they want to log into an account.

  3. Create unique passwords

    1. By having long, unique passwords for each online account, you are staying extra safe.

  4. Share with care

    1. Think before you post about what you may be revealing to others.

  5. Check your settings

  6. Every time there is an update to an application, there can be an update to privacy settings. You may find you are doing things more publicly than you ever intended.

“If it’s not secure, it’s also not private.” - Lisa Plaggmeir

Respecting others’ boundaries to protect their privacy

While students are thinking about their own privacy, we can also encourage them to think about the privacy of others. Everyone has their own privacy preferences about how willing they are to share personal information online, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. That is why it’s so important to respect others’ boundaries and privacy.

Plus, it’s so easy to do this! Talking to someone before sharing a photo or video of them online may seem simple, but students often miss this step before posting on social media. The reality is that everyone deserves to feel comfortable regarding their online presence. With this in mind, encourage your students to consider the following before they post a photo of a friend, family member, or even somebody at school online:

  • Respect Others’ Privacy and Reputation: Posting a picture of someone without their consent could make them feel uncomfortable. It is always better to seek their permission before sharing their image on social media. The internet is forever, and pictures shared online can have a lasting impact on someone’s reputation. Before posting a picture, consider if it could potentially harm the person’s reputation or hurt their feelings. If so, sharing it online might not be the best move.

  • Build Trust: Seeking permission before sharing a photo of our friends or family members can help to build trust with the important people in our lives. By taking the extra step to ask before they post, your students can build strong relationships and connect with others in a meaningful way.

Empowering students to navigate their social worlds and technology

While social media is how students are social, connect with friends and like-minded communities, and express themselves creatively, it can also be a portal to strangers, hackers, and insecure networks. With 95% of teens having access to digital devices and the number of educational tools and applications accessed per month by school districts increasing by 52% in 2021, cybersecurity has never been more important for students, families, and educators.

As social media and technology are complex, ever-evolving, and most of all, data-packed, how are you equipping your students to navigate their online worlds in safe and secure ways? It might feel like a daunting question, but thankfully there are regulations in place and simple, actionable steps you can take to prepare students for a world that is tech-fueled and social media-filled.

Download this School Playbook that examines the laws and guidelines for schools to follow in order to protect student privacy and provides helpful checklists for your school to protect student data and help students protect their privacy.



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