The value of using social media

Mobile phones, tablets, laptop computers and other devices make it possible for teens to stay connected virtually every moment of their waking lives. As a result, much of the information they gain about their school, community and world at large comes from online sources – in particular, social media.

In the 2011 “Future of the First Amendment” survey of more than 12,000 high school students and 900 teachers sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, researcher Dr. Kenneth Dautrich found that nearly two-thirds of high school students obtain news and information from the Internet at least several times a week, while half use mobile devices such as iPhones and Blackberrys for the same purpose. More than three-quarters of high school students use social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr at least several times a week for news and information – and nearly half spend some time seeking information about what is happening at school.

High school journalism programs have responded to this technology surge by adding websites, Facebook pages, tweets and other digital tools to the media mix.

Adults who are willing to trade free speech rights for perceived safety jeopardize student journalists’ efforts to embrace social media. News reports about online predators, cyberbullying, sexually explicit exchanges between minors and other harmful online behaviors strike fear in parents, teachers, administrators and lawmakers.

However, temptation lies everywhere – not just in cyberspace – and managing it is a real-world life skill teens must acquire. Student journalists educated about and trained to use social media in a professional manner can allay the fears of well-meaning adults and set models of mature, responsible use for their audiences to follow.

In addition, student journalists gain valuable job skills by using social media. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, people “must exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology” if they are to succeed. These include accessing, evaluating, using and managing information; analyzing media and creating media products; and applying technology effectively.

Principals should encourage advisers to follow technological advancements. Online media provide a wealth of learning materials and facilitate networking with other educators. Teachers who stay up to date on evolving technology also demonstrate the importance of lifelong learning.

See also:
Supporting student media with technology and finances
Internet access and safety
Content development from start to finish
First Amendment and student media
Journalism ethics at center stage
School boards and student media
Differences between law and ethics
Yearbook ethical guidelines for student media
Online ethical guidelines for student media
Visual ethical guidelines for student media
Definitions of prior review, restraint and forums
Which type of forum best serves your students and community
Importance of open forum status
JEA Adviser Code of Ethics
Internet freedom of expression
Why avoiding prior review is educationally sound
First Amendment Press Freedom questions


The Social Media Toolbox contains lesson plans and related resources for student journalism programs. Aligned to Common Core State Standards, lessons draw from research on educational and professional journalism practices. Advisers can use the entire unit or lessons one at a time. Topics include ethical decision-making, student media law, social media policies, cyberbullying, how to get started with Facebook and Twitter, verification of information, reporting with social media, and more.

Social Media, the Classroom and the First Amendment, inspired by the 2011 Future of the First Amendment study, “takes a fresh look at how America’s schools can enhance learning through the use of emerging and interactive media. This guide is designed to give teachers the tools and ideas they need to engage students using social media and existing curricula.”, a resource from the Journalism Education Association’s Digital Media Committee, features a growing collection of materials for high school advisers and their students on social networks, websites, podcasts, blogs, broadcasts and other emerging media platforms.

JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission maintains awebsite to help educate high school advisers and their students about issues related to student media law. A noteworthy social media resource is a set of online ethics guidelines. These offer insight on ethical questions student journalists can use as a basis for their own guidelines. The SPRC also provides information and resources to help students rely on legal and ethical standards of professional journalism as they incorporate social media into their publications.