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Lack of awareness of social media risks

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21 March 2011

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A new Monash University report into the legal risks associated with the use of social networking sites has found that while 95 per cent of Victorian students use social networking sites, nearly 30 per cent did not consider social networking held any risks.

The project gathered survey and interview data from over 1000 Victorian middle school students (years 7-10), 200 teachers and 49 parents.

The report found Facebook is the most popular social networking site, with 93.4 per cent of students using it.

The majority of surveyed students update information on their social networking sites at least every day, with a quarter updating their profile several times per day.

The most common content posted to social networking sites by students is photographs of themselves (60.9 per cent), followed by photographs of their friends (52.6 per cent).

Parents and teachers are particularly concerned with issues of cyber-bullying, grooming or stalking, with a lesser number expressing concerns about identity theft and disclosure.

Surveyed students felt that social networking sites were safer than did their teachers and parents. While 48.8 per cent of students feel there was some element of risk, more than one quarter (28.3 per cent) believe social networking sites are safe. Moreover, 19.6 per cent of students are indifferent about risk, essentially reporting the degree of risk was irrelevant to them as social networking is 'just what everyone does'.

Despite this, the majority of surveyed students (72.4 per cent) indicated they had received unwelcome or unpleasant contact by strangers via their social networking profile.

A minority of students (13.8 per cent) were concerned about security risks, such as identity theft. A very small group of students identified concerns relating to privacy or unwelcome disclosure of data.

Dr Michael Henderson, one of the co-authors of the report and Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Education at Monash said that while risks such as cyber-bullying have been emphasised, little attention has been given to other potential risks faced by social networking sites.

"Such risks exist in the areas of privacy, breach of confidence, disclosure, defamation, intellectual property rights, copyright infringement and  criminal laws including harassment and distribution of offensive material," Dr Henderson said.

The report recommends that education about the full range of legal risks potentially encountered via social media should be part of fully integrated school curricula.

The authors of the report have also produced a legal resource for students and schools to highlight the risks of social networking sites. The report and the resource can be accessed at  http://newmediaresearch.educ.monash.edu.au/moodle/course/view.php?id=37 

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Education Law