Digital Natives: Exploring Social Media Policy in K-12 Education

This generation of school-age children is considered digital natives--born in the digital era, with earlier and earlier exposure and fluency to digital technologies. While education will primarily remain an in-person experience, education has shifted to digital learning. On top of that, social media platforms have begun marketing to younger and younger users, raising concerns about how to protect impressionable minds best and setting an example for modern digital citizenship.

As a result, it is more imperative than ever for schools to support learning environments that maintain both digital fluency and proper digital hygiene habits to stay ahead of the learning curve of their students. This shift begs the question: how does the future of hiring in education look? How can school boards run by adults who have not grown up as digital natives manage students who can master technology faster than them?

Students are building digital presences at younger and younger ages

Students are becoming social media literate at younger and younger ages. Different demographics tend to use various social media platforms; for example, teens make up less than 3% of Facebook's users while their parents make up 13-18%. A survey by Pew Research demonstrates that, according to their parents, 30% of kids ages 9-11 already use TikTok, and 22% use Snapchat. While some platforms have age requirements (users must be at least 13 on Facebook and Instagram), social media platforms are reaching younger age groups as a means to bolster growth and secure sustainable audiences. While this has provoked controversy on other fronts, the reality is that students are already using social media and are finding ways to innovate on their platforms of choice, whether parents or teachers can keep up or not. 

Better hiring invests in online behavioral integrity

Schools are institutions dedicated to modeling public citizenship and facilitating optimal learning environments for the emerging populous. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the institution to develop policy that expands the scope of the public square to digital platforms, including but not limited to social media. The term "digital hygiene practices" tends to pop up around cybersecurity or the pervasiveness of technology in everyday life--i.e., maintaining password strength, limiting screen time, etc. However, a broader definition of the term could mean expanding expectations of behavioral integrity to digital life. Instead of thinking of the internet as a closed-circuit world, schools have a unique opportunity to reformulate what it means to be a model citizen.

If it's not okay to say it to someone in the classroom, why would it be okay to say it online? To instigate this type of change, hiring objectives for instructors might shift their emphasis from not only pedagogical performance but also behavior. A candidate may be highly qualified and desperately needed, but how are they performing their duties?

The most apparent external measure of the risk of ignoring digital hygiene is imminent in the public relations controversies that have become commonplace in regional news. Social media firing stories such as this teacher fired for a racist Facebook post or this school board member who resigned following an offensive social media post mar the school's reputation and risks compromising learning environments for impressionable students. 

The demands of modern hiring in education require just as much behavioral integrity as performance ethic. The trouble is, from a hiring perspective, how can school boards ensure the consistency of a candidate's character?

Screening can help navigate change

One of the most apparent metrics of a candidate's character is their behavior, measured best through a track record. Personal and professional references may not give the most precise picture of a candidate, and everyday behavior doesn't appear on a criminal background check. Fortunately, social media screening has emerged as a viable supplement to hiring practices interested in more closely honing in on a candidate's character. As public life moves into the digital sphere, social media reports have become a valuable tool for higher education institutions. Social media screening allows institutions to more accurately grasp candidate behavior, specifically potentially problematic school-related behavior like intolerance, violence, and sexually explicit material. As the premier social media screening service, Social Intelligence partners directly with educational boards and other screening agencies to create an efficient, comprehensive battery of screening tools to serve better the needs of hundreds of schools across the country.

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As school districts negotiate the future of public education, Social Intelligence is proud to provide them with tangible, achievable structural changes that will have lasting effects on future generations of both teachers and students.