The Internet is a great resource, but it's important for you and your child to be aware of the challenges and issues that can occur online. As parents you may be wondering, “What is Twitter?” or “What do I need to know to help keep my child safe online?”
We've compiled some tips both for you and for you to share with your child about different issues or situations they may encounter online. Not a parent? Check out our Tips for educators or Tips for teens for more information.
What you can do
Founded in 2006, Twitter is a social broadcast network that enables people and organizations to publicly share brief messages instantly around the world. The service can be accessed on the web at Twitter.com, on a wide variety of mobile devices and via text messaging. Available in more than 35 languages, Twitter has more than 200 million monthly active users. Visit www.twitter.com or follow @twitter for more information.
Remember Twitter is a Public Space
Most of the communication taking place on Twitter is viewable to everyone. Since the information posted is public, it can be retweeted on the site by anyone who sees it.
While Tweets can be protected so only approved followers can see them, most users share their Tweets with everyone. If your child wants their Tweets to only be available to approved followers, they can protect their Tweets.
Explain to your child that passwords should never be shared, not even with their friends. If the home computer is shared, remind them to always log out when they finish their Twitter session to develop good online safety habits. It's important to log out of any websites they logged into on a shared computer, otherwise, other people may be able to access their information.
Use Online Safety to Connect with Your Child
Teens in particular may feel like parents are disconnected from their perspective and fear conversations about online safety will be awkward or embarrassing. Listen to how your child is using Twitter and other online mediums. Take their online relationships seriously, ask questions and perhaps even brainstorm together to come up with solutions to safety issues they have encountered.
Keep a Healthy Life Balance
As a parent, you're a role model for your child. Demonstrate the importance of a balance between online and other activities by encouraging family activities offline as well as online.
Encourage Discretion and Critical Thinking
For teens, social media platforms like Twitter open a door onto the global public square through which anyone with an Internet connection can pass. There, teens encounter an array of perspectives on topics, such as current events as they unfold in real time. Because social media platforms aggregate content from multiple sources, teens who use those platforms have the opportunity to consult multiple sources, some of which may openly contradict one another. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for teens to learn about perspective-taking and to examine information critically.
Take the opportunity not only to learn about the sorts of situations your child is experiencing online, but also to identify solutions and encourage critical thinking. Ask them questions like:
- With whom are you sharing this information?
- Can you trust all the people that see the information on your Twitter account?
- How might your Tweet be interpreted?
- Is the Tweet part of a broader conversation?
Parents should also ask their teens about their approach to creating, sharing, and commenting on content posted on social media platforms. Twitter exhorts parents to talk with their teens about seeing their interactions online as part of a context that’s more complex than meets the eye. This calls for a bit of critical thinking, that is, to account not simply for everyone who can view a teen’s content, but for each way that content could be misinterpreted.
Although it’s impossible to predict every reaction to a Tweet, even thinking about who could see it and all the ways he or she could react is enough to make any user take pause. This is in fact the point of critical thinking: it helps teens look at social situations contextually.
Enhance Media Literacy
Knowing how to assess information available on the Internet thoughtfully is not a given. Content varies from the quickly composed blog post to the carefully reviewed journal article. Neither is better than the other, but it’s crucial to be able to tell them apart. As with a research project for school, some teens may struggle to distinguish various kinds of content or assess them accordingly. This may spill over onto Twitter, which features content shared from every corner of the Internet. Knowing how to locate and distinguish different kinds of content may prevent misunderstandings and defuse conflicts. Moreover, it helps teens learn how to evaluate information with a critical eye rather than accept it outright.
Accordingly, parents should assist teens in acquiring information literacy skills—ones they can apply everywhere online. The Internet constantly requires us to evaluate information. Search tools use sophisticated algorithms to filter information for us, yet no algorithm can determine whether that information is valid. As with the quality of search engine results, content posted on social media platforms isn’t created equal. A blog entry or a listicle posted on a tight deadline doesn’t undergo the rigorous fact-checking of a piece of investigative journalism in a reputable publication. Even for news-savvy adults, the ability to tell them apart isn’t a given.
Parents should seek out resources on media literacy online and at their teen’s school. Some secondary schools may incorporate media literacy into the core curriculum, while some universities offer continuing studies courses on media for high school-aged students. Related subject areas like communication, philosophy, and rhetoric offer books about argumentation that draw on examples from the media. NGOs like Common Sense Media also specialize in educating teens about how to use technology in a safe and informed way. With these resources, teens will learn about how knowledge is produced and information disseminated online. Teens with high levels of media literacy will not only be able to assess content thoughtfully, but be able to understand conflicts that often arise from a misunderstanding.
When Matters Have Gone Too Far
Twitter recognizes that teenagers face unique risks as minors with less autonomy than adults. Its tools can effectively stop a bullying from harassing other users on the platform, but its power doesn’t extend offline. Since concerned parents are more familiar with their teen’s situation, they are best suited to suggest or even take appropriate action.
Block and Ignore
If your child receives unwanted Tweets from another Twitter user, we generally recommend that he or she block that user and end communication. Ignoring the content shows unwillingness to engage in such interaction, and in most cases, the aggressor loses interest. This Twitter Support article explains how to block other users.
Submit a Report
If a situation (say, persistent harassment) escalates beyond what a teen can manage, a parent or legally authorized representative can submit a report to Twitter on the teen’s behalf. Reporting on someone’s behalf enables parents to represent their child if they wouldn’t ordinarily monitor his or her Twitter account. Parents and other legal representatives who choose to submit a report on their teen’s behalf must provide, at minimum, Tweet URLs (or screenshots), a thorough description of the situation, and basic information to verify their identity. Depending on the nature of the violation, Twitter may request additional information.
Coordinate with Educators and Other Parents
We encourage parents to take their teen’s online relationships as seriously as those they conduct offline. Often, they’re one and the same. A teen bullied online may also be bullied by the same person at school or at a regular activity. There’s greater continuity between life online and offline than one would think—and above all for teenagers today. Thus parents with a teen bullied on Twitter should ask if that bullying also occurs offline. For instance, parents could talk to other parents, school administrators, and teachers to learn about which social media platforms their teens use and what kinds of problems they encounter by using them. Sharing insights will raise general awareness and establish a network for resolving issues if they arise.
Contact Local Law Enforcement or Legal Representation
If something has gone beyond the point of a personal conflict and has turned into credible threats, whether it be online or offline, you should contact your local authorities as they are in the best position to assess the threat and intervene or assist as necessary.
If contacted by law enforcement directly, we can work with them and provide the necessary information for their investigation of your issue. You can point local law enforcement to our Guidelines for Law Enforcement.
If you feel the issues are legal in nature, please seek advice from a lawyer. Twitter cannot offer any legal advice, nor can we provide other users' information except as required by valid legal process.