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Social media is the name given to a series of digital communication apps. The word app, is short for application, which is a piece of software that can be used on a digital device. All social media platforms can be accessed from any digital device that has an internet connection, either on their individual apps or online through their individual websites.
You may have heard of some social media apps as they are extremely popular among younger people, or you may even use them yourself. They have become a staple in the daily lives of many people in society, and have transformed the ability to communicate with people near and far.
Social media enables people to stay in touch with friends and family instantly. You can even follow the lives of celebrities and other idols on the platforms. It is a great way of sharing your life with others, through various forms of content including messages, pictures and videos.
Younger users can have fun using the apps through exploring their interests and identities, as well as be entertained. However, this quick and easy to use method of communication does not come without its risks. There are many dangers on social media because of the easy access it has to communication and information about people. It paves the way for criminals to manipulate users, as well as gives rise to hateful comments and abusive content.
It is particularly important for parents to be aware of the dangers on social media, so that they can ensure their children are protected. In this article we will be sharing a parents’ guide to Twitter and how to keep children safe online.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is one of the oldest and most popular social media apps. Since its creation in 2006, it now has 340 million daily active users worldwide; with 500 million tweets sent every single day. There is a wide variety of people who use the app, from celebrities and politicians, to older and younger people. The main use for Twitter is to share thoughts as short messages called tweets (which you may have heard of).
These are shared onto your profile and may also appear in the Twitter news feed. Tweets have a restricted word limit of 280 characters, which means that the content shared must be short; making it eye-catching for other people to read and digest quickly. This is one of the factors that makes Twitter stand out from other social media platforms. As well as written text, you can include pictures, videos, hyperlinks, GIFs and polls in tweets, as well as hashtags.
A hashtag is a short phrase written after this # symbol, without spaces. They are used to categorise tweets so that other users who may follow that hashtag can find what you have written. You can interact with other people’s tweets in many ways.
There is the reply function that allows you to write a reply to the person directly underneath their tweet. If you do not want to reply, you can simply like the tweet by clicking on the love heart icon underneath it. A final way to interact is to retweet, which shares the tweet of the person you’re following onto your own profile.
Like all other social media sites, you can connect with your friends on the platform. However, instead of being friends, Twitter refers to connections on the platform as “followers”. Your friends can follow you, and you can follow your friends, which enables you to see their tweets and vice versa.
When signing up to Twitter, your profile is automatically public; which means that anybody can see your profile and tweets. There are settings that you can change to make your profile private, which will be discussed further on in this guide for parents. To join Twitter, users must be at least 13 years old, but like many other social media apps, children could easily lie about their age to create a profile.
Twitter appeals to many generations due to the variety of content available on the platform. According to Hootsuite, 9.6% of Twitter users are under 18 years old. Younger users predominantly use the platform to connect with friends and learn more about their interests.
What are the dangers?
Social media is not without its dangers, and Twitter is no exception to this. Due to the wide range of users Twitter has, it can be home to a number of dangers for children and young people who use the platform. You can find out what dangers parents should be aware of below.
There is a wide range of content available to view on the platform, and this makes it difficult for Twitter to sensor all of the explicit content that is on the platform. Due to this, your child could risk viewing some upsetting or disturbing content on the platform.
The NSPCC have some further information about shielding children from inappropriate content, and how to support them after they have seen something upsetting.
Similar to the above, your child could be exposed to abusive content. It can be common for people to get into arguments on Twitter through the replies section of some tweets. Within this, strangers can easily make an abusive comment and tag any user on Twitter into this.
This could risk your child being victimised on the platform. As Twitter profiles automatically begin as public profiles, anybody could reply with a negative comment to your child’s tweets, which could be upsetting for them.
A further negative consequence from the risk of abusive content is cyberbullying. This is when a child gets bullied online through digital methods. Cyberbullying can consume a child because the abuse can happen to them at any time by anyone online; making them feel like they do not have a safe space.
Social media gives people extensive access to communication, and this can be good or bad communication. If your child becomes a victim of cyberbullying it can have a negative impact on their mental health. You can find out more about mental health problems in children.
Online grooming is when a stranger, either posing as somebody else or not, begins communicating with a child online and manipulating them into a false relationship. The perpetrator aims to build trust with the child user and then exploits this in abusive ways (such as violently, or sexually).
Online grooming is a serious offence and should be reported as soon as you become aware of such as crime happening. We will share ways that you can protect your child from instances such as this in the next section.
Twitter safety tips
There are many ways in which parents can keep their children safe online. The best way of doing this is by understanding what social media platforms your child is using. If your child is using Twitter, it is important for you to know how Twitter works and how your child is using the app, so that you are aware of the possible dangers they could face.
Twitter regularly updates its safety and security page, so this is a good resource to remain up to date with. This will give you the best chance of preventing any harmful content, or strangers reaching your child on the platform. You will find out further information about Twitter use and terminology in the next section, but first, we have shared some Twitter safety tips below.
Make your profile private
As we mentioned previously, Twitter makes a user’s account public once they sign up. This means that anybody in the world can access your child’s profile online. To resolve this, you can use the settings on Twitter to make the account private. A private account only allows users that are following your child to view their profile, and your child can accept or decline a follow request.
Another way to prevent strangers or unwanted contact on your child’s profile is to block them. Blocking a Twitter account will ensure that the user cannot find your child’s profile, view their tweets, or contact them in any way on the platform. However, to ensure that the user can not see any tweets by creating a new profile, you must ensure that your child’s profile is private.
Discuss positive and negative comments
Twitter encourages a lot of online conversations, but with that comes negativity. Everyone has a different opinion on most topics, but when disagreements occur on the platform, some hateful comments can be shared.
To shield your child from this you should explain that the communication on Twitter should not be any different to communicating in the real world, so if your child is concerned about a message or tweet, they should tell you. Kidscape have a website dedicated to supporting parents and children with bullying. You can seek advice on their website if your child has become upset about something they have seen online.
Discuss stranger danger
When a Twitter profile is public, anybody can follow it. That is why the private profile setting is important for child Twitter users. However, with a private profile your child has the choice of which follow requests to accept and which follow requests not to accept.
You should discuss the importance of only accepting follow requests from real friends on the platform and advise them that if they would not talk to the person in real life, they should not accept the follow request.
The more you use Twitter and start following a selection of hashtags, the more suggested content the app will showcase to its individual users. Due to this it is important for your child to view content that is age appropriate.
You can discuss the type of content you are happy for them to view and interact with before they start using the app to ensure that they do not get exposed to inappropriate content. You can also have a conversation with your child about the type of content they share on the platform themselves. As Twitter will leave a digital footprint behind, you should ensure that your child is respectful on the platform.
To assist parents’ understanding of the terminology used on Twitter, we have included some of the popular terms below:
Tweet – A tweet is a post that you make on Twitter. It can include up to 240 characters, as well as images, video, GIFs and hyperlinks. You write a tweet from your profile page in the “what’s happening” box.
Hashtag # – A hashtag is the # symbol, followed by a word or phrase without spaces. This can be added to your tweets to categorise them to help people follow a trending topic or conversation.
Follower – Followers are the people on Twitter who are following your profile (similar to a friend on other social media platforms). People can follow you by clicking the “follow” button on your profile. You can follow other users by clicking the “follow” button on their profile too.
Retweet (RT) – This is how you share the tweets of other users. There is a retweet button underneath every user’s tweet, and when you click this, the user’s tweet will be shared to your profile page. The user will be credited for their tweet by their username appearing above the retweet on your profile.
Direct message (DM) – A direct message is a private message that is sent to a user. Each user on Twitter has a personal inbox that only they can see, so your direct message will appear here. This is similar to most other social media apps.
Trending – A trending topic is a conversation or event that has lots of users tweeting about it. Twitter has a personalised trending section for users to see content that they have an interest in.
Handle – The @ symbol is what appears before a user’s username, and this is referred to as a user’s handle. You can tag users in your tweets by adding the @ symbol and the username in your tweets.
Twitter thread – A Twitter thread is a series of tweets from one person that are connected to the same conversation. These can be used if a user has more to say than the 240 character limit.
Twitter is one of the earliest social media apps, but its popularity still remains strong. With 500 million tweets sent on the platform every day, it is difficult for the Twitter support centre to sensor all of the inappropriate content and abusive profiles.
That is why parents have an important role in keeping their children safe when using the platform. By using our guide to Twitter for parents, you can familiarise yourself with Twitter’s functions and terminology to assist you in protecting your child online. By remaining involved and actively communicating with your children about their Twitter profiles, you can teach them what is right and wrong on the platform.