danah boyd has a great article in The Knowledge Tree, Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?, where she talks about how young people use social networking sites and some ideas on how adults, especially educators, can and should deal with this new reality.
Her thoughts on what makes social networking sites unique:
- Persistence. What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronous communication, but it also means that what you said at 15 is still accessible when you are 30 and have purportedly outgrown those childish days.
- Searchability. My mother would’ve loved the ability to scream “Find!” into the ether and determine where I was hanging out with my friends. She couldn’t, and I’m thankful. Today’s teens’ parents have found their hangouts with the flick of a few keystrokes.
- Replicability. Digital bits are copyable; this means that you can copy a conversation from one place and paste it into another place. It also means that it’s difficult to determine if the content was doctored.
- Invisible audiences. While it is common to face strangers in public life, our eyes provide a good sense of who can overhear our expressions. In mediated publics, not only are lurkers invisible, but persistence, searchability, and replicability introduce audiences that were never present at the time when the expression was created.
And some suggestions for educator engagement (excerpted here):
- Create a profile on whatever sites are popular in your school.
- Keep your profile public and responsible, but not lame.
- Do not go surfing for your students, but if they invite you to be Friends, say yes.
- The more present you are, the more opportunity you have to influence the norms.
Some wise words for those of us thinking about the short, medium and long term implications on society and our institution of these sites. And more immediately, whether or not we want to go there, create profiles and directly engage students.