Twitter is a great way for students to learn the power of instant information sharing. Just subscribe to the Twitter feeds of any major news publication and the accounts of the journalists who contribute to them, and you’ll see up to the minute reports from varying perspectives. Encouraging your students to get involved in the Twitter community is a very exciting prospect, but also a very scary one.
Too many youth have been subjected to the harsh realities that once something is posted to the Internet, it is posted permanently. Teaching your students safe practices before they begin to use Twitter can prevent harmful repercussions down the road. Also, send out permissions slips detailing your safety steps to give parents peace of mind.
The following five safety steps are by no means a comprehensive list or Twitter security, but rather the five most essential steps you should go through with your students before they click their first “Tweet” button.
#1 – The Internet is a Public Domain
Just like Facebook, any content that is published to Twitter is available to be viewed by anyone who wishes to view it, unless you change your settings. Take a moment to educate your student by doing a quick Twitter search of any term (e.g.”phone,” or “screen name”). Show them the vast amount of results that are populated. Although you may not be following these users and they may not be following you, their Tweets are just a visible as if you were.
Encourage your students to restrict their tweets to interesting webpages, articles, music, current events, sports statistics, or other already public material. Discourage them from Tweeting about themselves, their personal experiences, or personal information until they become more familiar with the Twitter community or until they have enabled account privacy – under the settings tab, click the “protect my tweets” box to allow only those who your students approve to view their tweets.
#2 – Password Makes Perfect
Ever been phishing? I’m not talking about early morning’s on a lake with a bunch of worms. Phishing scams will hack into your accounts using your login credentials and send viruses or spam to your followers.
Teach your students to avoid phishing by choosing a secure password and changing that password at least once every two months. Secure passwords should contain a combination of letters and numbers and should never contain personal information – e.g. birthdates, addresses, names of family members, social security numbers. If your students happen to fall victim to phishing, have them change their password immediately.
#3 – Know Your Followers
Much like an email service, anyone can send you communications on Twitter by using your handle in a Tweet. If your students receive a tweet from someone they don’t know or who is not following them they should proceed with caution, especially if the Tweet contains a shortened link. When evaluating the validity of a questionable Tweet consider the following questions:
- Does the tweet contain little to no information about the link?
- Is the tweet asking me to join, approve, view, download, or retweet anything?
- Does the account who sent the tweet have zero followers? Are the following zero people?
- Does the account who sent the tweet lack a bio or avatar?
If the answers to one or more of the questions above is “yes,” chances are the tweet is either corrupt, spam, or frankly, just not worth risking your time. If it’s really that important, the person will contact you again.
#4 – Double Check, Triple Check your Tweets
Before sending a tweet, encourage your students to read and re-read their tweets before clicking the “tweet” button. Photos, links, and @ replies can easily be mistaken when in a rush. Taking a 10 second break to re-read each tweet your students send can save them from embarrassment and potential personal information leaks. Once they tweet something, encourage them to review the published tweet to determine if it should be deleted.
#5 – Don’t Over share. Just Don’t do it.
You’ve already told your students not to tweet about themselves, right? You followed step #1 and told them to keep their tweets about already public information, right? Well, just in case they fall victim to the allure of sharing quips about their daily life and what they had for breakfast, you can never overstress the importance of under sharing information about yourself. Your students should never share phone numbers, social media profile information (this includes instant messenger and Skype service handles), addresses, emails, etc. via tweet. If absolutely necessary encourage them to share this information through the direct message or DM feature offered by Twitter. It’s not fool proof, but much safer.