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Happy 20th FB! 

4 February 2004. The Facebook emerged into the world. It took a year to change the name and enter the UK but from then it has been a constant in our lives. We normally sing The Birthday Song in junior school assembly but, on reflection, I think probably not appropriate this time. Not just because it is a multinational and therefore I can’t give it a birthday badge but because most of our students probably won’t use it in its current form. Many more platforms have come along. Many more will. Metaverse anyone?

Sometimes I think the digital world evolves incredibly quickly. The way young people socialise now is completely different to how I did as a teenager. At least that’s what I thought. I did actually go and check, and I opened my Facebook account in April 2006, when I was 21. Since then it has helped me keep in contact with loved ones while studying at University, organise countless events, speak to my parents every week for five years while living in Asia and provide some much needed fun and chat during a lockdown caused by a global pandemic. To me, it is useful, I don’t worry how I use it. Looking back, I think I was pretty lucky, not everyone was on it and this meant my social media use has evolved as I have got older, and I have developed the skills to navigate as we have aged together. I made my social mistakes in person, thank you very much. 

I like to think that most people would still choose to socialise in person, still choose lovely old chat rather than a Whatsapp message, see the reaction when you make them laugh and understand the meaning behind the words. But there is no denying technology has allowed people to socialise in new and different ways. And this poses a problem for those of us jointly responsible for helping young people to navigate social situations, teaching them the right from wrong. We are having to play catchup and learn about these platforms so our advice has meaningful context.

Enter the UK Safer Internet Centre – a place where we can go to find the answer to all the questions we never thought we would have to ask: How do I help my daughter stay safe while still giving her the freedom to socialise online? How do I know if what she is viewing on Instagram is safe? Can she be messaged by people she doesn’t know on Snapchat? What on earth is Threads?! 

The UK Safer Internet Centre was formed in 2011, from three charities: Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning (SWGL) with the aim of delivering advice, resources and education to help adults and young people stay safe online. It includes guides on social media platforms, phones and issues such as online bullying, self harm and misinformation. It is one of the best places to go for up to date information. If you have time, take a look. Who knows what the next twenty years will bring but this is the best place to start. 

To end this little post I did consider adding the first Facebook photo of me from my account, from 2006, to give my colleagues (and some students) a smile over Easter but I’m afraid it breaks one of my golden rules: don’t mix social and professional profiles when online. So you’ll have to make do with a birthday cake. I do wonder how hard it will be for young people to have the same boundaries.

www.saferinternet.org.uk Parents and Carers – UK Safer Internet Centre

James Stevens, Head of Digital Learning at The Abbey Junior School
   

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