Guelph University students taught social media safety

Students on the football team at the University of Guelph will take a social media safety seminar on Thursday, in an effort to help them understand the implications of their behaviour online.

University hosts online behaviour seminars for students

Angi Roberts leads seminars to high school and university students about how to act responsibly online, and develop a personal brand you can be proud of. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Students on the football team at the University of Guelph will take a social media safety seminar on Thursday, in an effort to show them that there can be serious implications of their online behaviour. 

And even though students entering university have grown up with digital communication tools and technology, University of Guelph manager of information services in recruitment and admissions, Angi Roberts, sums up the session as a must-do: "It's almost like the new sex talk," she said. 

Roberts said that although young people are so-called 'digital-natives' and have grown up surrounded by social media, they've learned about it from peers and not anyone with some adult experience or expertise. So they know the apps and the technology, but not the broader social context.

Real life stories hit home with students

The session's provocative title, "Preventing a scandal: from crotch shot revenge to criminal charges: how to be in control of your online identity," hints at the range of content and conversation students will examine.

In the half-hour seminar, Roberts covers everything from sexting to Tinder, using real life examples to illustrate how things can go wrong online. 

Previous sessions have included classroom conversations about the issues raised at Dalhousie University, where dentistry students posted misogynistic Facebook comments. She's also pointed out that teens have been accused of child pornography offences for sharing photos of their under-18 girlfriends. 

"I'm not here to say 'you shouldn't be, you shouldn't do'," said Roberts. "It's about coming to their level but not trying to be them."

Roberts says surprised students take the time to ask questions specific to their lives and past experiences. And they're looking for online security technical tips. 

They ask her how to delete tweets a friend tags them in, or what information they should include on a LinkedIn page. 

"Whether they realize it or not they are creating a personal brand that their followers or users will then have access to," Roberts said. 

"I ask one of them to unlock their phone and let me look through it," she said, "to demonstrate the importance of personal data security on their devices. Usually the next question they have is how to beef up that security on their phones," she added,

Parents need to be online 

Although courses like this are becoming more a part of student's curriculum, Roberts said parents still need to be involved to help coach teens into responsible social media use and sharing of personal information.

"We give our kids smartphones, and then they go away and install apps on their own," she said, "and we may not be aware of what conversations they're having."

"We as parents have a responsibility to know where our children are." 

"If that means that you have a smart phone and you have Instagram and Snapchat and YikYak and all of these platforms that you may not use, at least understand how they work, so that you can understand how your children are using them."