New Jersey Could Mandate Social Media Education for Middle Schools

The proposed law aspires to reduce cyberbullying and instill social media ethics in kids.

The Internet is no place for a kid — digital native or not — to wander without the proper guidance and training. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 88 percent of kids who were asked said they had “seen other people being mean or cruel,” with 15 percent saying they had been “the target of negative behavior in the last 12 months,” according to an HLN report.

In addition to concerns about bullying there are also matters of etiquette and cybersecurity. That’s why, on Jan. 9, 2014, the New Jersey Senate decided to mandate social media education for all of the state’s middle school students, starting in the 2014–2015 school year, according to a report from The Star-Ledger.

Although the bill has passed the state Senate, it still needs to go back to the state Assembly before it’s signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

In assessing the potential for the bill in November last year, The Star-Ledger editorial board offered a full-throated endorsement — especially in contrast to another bill that would merely allow youngsters the option of deleting their social activity.

This proposal, which already passed the state Assembly and was voted out of the Senate education committee last week, would add social media education to the curriculum for students in grades 6-8. It’s directed not only at preventing racy photos or rants, but cyber-bullying, too.

And it’s actually doable — unlike another bill introduced by state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), which would require the operators of websites to give minors the option to delete all the posts they’ve come to regret. That could lead to all kinds of enforcement problems. After all, by the time a kid deletes something, who knows how many other websites it’s spread to?

Better to teach students how to avoid foolhardy posts in the first place. Social media use is so widespread now that it’s no longer just a parental issue. Teachers even rely on it in class, or to communicate with students — so they should be using it to impart some cyber ethics, too.

A prime example of the need for such training can be seen in the example of former British Youth Police Commissioner, Paris Brown. The 17-year-old found herself in hot water recently after offensive racist and homophobic tweets were discovered on her Twitter profile, according to a report from Sky News:

“I don't want to be judged on tweets that were written a long time ago, before I found out I had the job,” Brown said in response to the controversy that brewed over her remarks. “Everybody's got a regret. Maybe it's a tweet, maybe it's a status, but out of 4,000 tweets, there's only a few that have been picked up upon.”

Despite her appeal to the public to defer judgment on her character, in the end, Brown was forced to resign from the position.

If New Jersey’s social media training can help teenage students understand the ramifications of behaving badly on the web, perhaps we’ll have fewer Paris Brown–like implosions in the world.

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Jan 17 2014

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