Online social media responsibility needs to be part of the school curriculum — but not for the reasons you think

Today, Facebook launched Lifestage; a social app aimed at school kids. The twist? It has zero privacy. None (same as the number of experts it will take to see how the crowds of parents and teachers — and don’t forget the media—will react to this development).

Whatever you post, is accessible to everyone. And to add innovative insult to disruptive injury, they can’t guarantee that anyone posting as ‘kid from School X’ is actually from that school. Sounds a bit creepy. And with all the outrage over bullying + anything that ends in ‘ism’ taking place online, how could this even be a thing? Personally, I like it. Not because of the ‘no privacy’ approach, but rather because it forces us to ask the right questions.

Which important questions does Facebook’s Lifestage force us to ask? Bear with me for a little context first.

I think there are two reasons why this type of open social network could just make sense.

Firstly? Business.

The high school segment sure seems like a great business opportunity for Facebook (and friends)

With only 8% of all Facebook users between the ages of 13 and 19, it helps Facebook to expand to a completely under-catered yet very acquiescent group of youngsters. And with the likes of Snapchat making inroads into the social behemoth’s turf, it is very likely that they are doing everything possible to remain relevant and protect their users. Also remember that this battle is personal for Facebook, after Snapchat turned down its $3bn offer years ago. All these confusing new features in Instagram serve towards this battle and Lifestage is just another weapon in the arsenal (I believe that to be true even though the guy who led development said it has been undercover for nearly two years).

Facebook’s release of Lifestage is simply another means to compete for Snapchat’s users (aka their own has-been users)

Secondly? Zero privacy could actually solve the we hate each other and say nasty things problem that took place in more private networks (key word being more). Perhaps people could be more accountable.

Maybe we all would actually be nice to each other for a change?

This seems counter-intuitive at first. Perhaps if we look at the minefield of privacy disasters that prohibited social networks from playing for the hearts and minds of a younger audience in the first place, trying something new doesn’t seem that insane. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that this social network aligns 100% with Facebook’s mission statement. You could even argue that it takes it forward. With social media, people (including youngsters) have been given a ton of authority to express themselves in any way they like. And as with any great power, the cliché still rings true.

An app targeted at school kids with zero privacy features forces us to rethink how people learn to be responsible online.

I don’t mean the type of “don’t hurt other people’s feelings or be a douche” kind of responsibility. Sure, don’t do that — but that only treats the symptom. All people, including youngsters, should learn how to be more savvy online. We see it all the time. Some ignorant person blurts out a racial slur on Twitter and next thing you know, their career is done for. Kids post revealing images of themselves on Snapchat without really grasping how many of their peers will see it… and the fact that it’s totally illegal and implicates everyone involved.

Effectively, it comes down to a philosophical question around freedom of speech. If we believe in being able to truly express how we feel, we need to understand how social media as expression amplification tool needs to be used.

We need to teach people from a young age to take responsibility, rather than simply ‘be responsible’.

Well I had to put something about Trump in here… wouldn’t want to be the only post that didn’t mention him!

If we’re going to solve this problem, we may as well start at the core. That core goes beyond manners and political correctness. It focuses on getting people to understand that what you say online is not only still reality, it is amplified reality, and it couples this fundamental view with a keen understanding of how your online self expression can lead to pretty amazing future prospects, or wreck your career before it even starts. I don’t subscribe to social inhibition for the sake of status quo. Instead I believe that people should be able to say what they want to as long as they have a good grasp of what their online actions will amount to.

And this education needs to start (and not end) at school. Teaching kids to take responsibility for their online lives is a significant step in the right direction. Not only does it instil more respect, it gives them skills that could take them further one day. It treats the cause.

And as for Lifestage, perhaps going against the grain may actually change things…

But probably, it won’t.