Since gaining prominence in the mid-2000s the usage of social media across the globe has rocketed. In America, the birthplace of the internet, usage of social media has increased by over 800% from 2005 to 2015, with young adults being most engaged. Thus, 16 years into the new millennium, the usage of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, has become a common phenomenon.
Social media has had immense positive impact. It has been able to bring people on opposite ends of the world closer together; coordinate relief work in times of disaster; and even topple corrupt governments. However, this article will not bore you with platitudes on the advantages of social media, that many have internalized. Rather it will focus on the organizations in Sri Lanka that have shunned the usage of social media.
In Sri Lanka numerous institutions and individuals have embraced this technology, albeit rather slowly, to further their varying needs. However, some Sri Lankan primary and secondary educational institutions have shunned and deplored the usage of social media and the internet in general; even to the extent of threatening students who use social media with expulsion.
One leading school in Sri Lanka that has adopted prohibitionist policies is Lyceum International. I myself have faced these policies while schooling at Lyceum throughout the last decade. During our weekly assemblies we were warned on the restrictions on social media, and our parents were regularly reminded the same via monthly newsletters. This practice has continued, though it seems to have become stricter.
These educational institutions sight the dangers of pedophilia, unwanted romantic relations, cyberbullying and addiction as reasons behind their ban. While indeed these concerns are legitimate, I believe that the way they have chosen to tackle these issues is counter productive.
Numerous psychological studies have shown that banning something makes it more alluring. History has shown that prohibitions, such as those on soft drugs and alcohol, were unable to reduce their usage. Similarly, heavy restriction on social media for adolescents would only increase their desire to bite on this forbidden fruit, even if simply out of curiosity. Clearly, no amount of restriction, especially on something that is believed as advantageous by wider society, could prevent students from accessing social media.
Thus, what these educational institutions should do, by the virtue of the field they are in, is to educate their pupils on how to be smart about the internet and social media. And here are some of the ways they can do this.
Schools should help their students learn how to:
- use social media appropriately by providing guidelines, such as regulations on the upload of content related to their school.
- maintain their privacy and abstain from divulging personal information.
- access and share useful information, such as gaining real-time news via twitter.
- avoid falling prey to the evils of social media, such as being targeted by pyramid schemes, and unknown individuals with fake identities who may end up being pedophiles.
- tap into the power of social media to advance and work towards social causes that they are passionate about.
- utilize social media platforms, like LinkedIn, to boost their career prospects once they enter the real world.
- use social media in emergency situations – be it if one is being stalked in a dark alley, or is trapped in one’s house during a flood.
Indeed in a world with new professions like social media specialists, if schools fail to educate their students, they will become ignorant folk who will find it very difficult to navigate themselves in the 21st century. Therefore, I implore all schools in Sri Lanka to act smart and teach their students the power of social media – both the bad and the good.