7. Guidance for Students on the Use of Social Networking Sites

7.1 Introduction

7.1.1 The University recognises that many students use social networking sites, and appreciates that the use of these tools can enhance student life and promote participation in social and professional networks. Similar technology may also be utilised to support teaching and learning.

7.1.2 However there are some dangers associated with social networking that students need to be aware of. In particular it is necessary to understand that certain activities can bring students into conflict with University regulations. The issues discussed here fall into three categories:

(i) internet safety

(ii) general interaction

(iii) reputational issues

7.1.3 This information is of relevance to undergraduate, postgraduate and others studying at the Institution, whether that is on a full or part time basis. This also includes students who attend short courses and Summer Schools.

7.1.4 The University may have to become involved and take subsequent action in cases where a student has acted inappropriately towards another student, a member of staff or towards an individual unconnected with the University, especially in instances whereby the student has misused University computer facilities to this end.

7.1.5 It should also be noted that extreme misuse of social working websites might be interpreted as criminal acts and repercussions from such activity would involve the police or other authorities.

7.2 Internet safety

7.2.1 It is possible to use social networking and related tools safely, but this requires an awareness of the kinds of dangers that exist in an online environment. It is possible to be perfectly safe online as long as individuals adhere to a number of basic principles.

7.2.2 Above all else, individuals must protect their identity and information which they would consider personal. Unscrupulous people can use any number of methods to try and obtain someone’s identity and use this data to perform embarrassing, harmful and possibly illegal acts. This might include:

(i) using a social media account in order to insult someone anonymously

(ii) using account information in order to download illegal or inappropriate internet content

(iii) illegal, fraudulent activities such as posing as someone else in order to obtain important personal information from family and friends

(iv) Illegally obtaining money from an individual’s banking or Paypal account.

7.2.3 Students should, therefore:

(i) Never disclose their username and password information to anyone

(ii) Never share address book or contact information with anyone online

(iii) Think carefully before disclosing their University or personal e-mail address online

(iv) Always take care to keep login information and contacts private when using them in a public space or on a PC used by others

(v) Never respond to e-mails or messages from unknown individuals and never disclose login information in an e-mail, no matter who asks and for whatever reason

(vi) Never accept invitations to access any site or online service using details that have been created for another purpose.

7.2.4 In addition to this, it is important to protect other forms of personal information. Students should be wary of placing photographs, video clips or text on sites that would allow them to be identified or contacted in wider society. Even if it is necessary to use a site to promote a band, society or other enterprise, it is safest not to reveal home addresses or those of fellow students and friends. It is also sensible to refrain from advertising other means of contact such as mobile phone numbers.

7.3 General interaction

7.3.1 Students should be acutely aware of the way in which they interact with other users of social media and networking sites. The need for respect and courtesy should be borne in mind. The use of derogatory or abusive language can easily lead to charges of bullying and harassment, whether that was what was meant or not. It is the effect on the recipient that counts, not the intentions of the sender.

7.3.2 Bullying covers any behaviour that is calculated to offend, alienate or intimidate another person and accusations of bullying will always be investigated and may result in disciplinary action.

7.3.3 Harassment is considered to be unwanted and persistent conduct which has the purpose or effect of either violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating or hostile atmosphere for an individual. In relation to this, and to other categories of discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 recognises 9 protected characteristics: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage/civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex (gender); sexual orientation. Similarly, such actions will be investigated and may result in disciplinary action.

7.3.4 Students should be aware that bullying or harassment may arise not only from the posting of offensive language but also from the use of images or multimedia.

7.3.5 Students should also note the following broader points: Thanks to the anonymity it affords, the internet is home to standards of behaviour that often fall short of those expected in an academic environment. It is not unusual to find very dismissive and sometimes highly offensive language on the internet or language of a highly personal nature or that which derives from homophobic, sexist or racist stereotypes. Deliberately provocative, careless and even casual use of this kind of language is liable to cause offence and has no place in any activity related to educational courses or in circumstances which might cause a student to be associated with the University. Any deviation from this principle will be treated as prejudicial to the wellbeing of other students and staff. In addition to this, modern technologies allow people to produce photographs, sound recordings and video clips which can be placed on the internet very easily. This allows information to be made public, and the person who created it can very quickly lose control of its dissemination. In cases where these recordings capture individuals in compromising or embarrassing situations, or in cases where a recording is used in a way that makes the subject the object of fun, derision or contempt, the author may be held responsible for bullying.

7.4 Reputational issues

7.4.1 In addition to bullying it is important that students consider carefully their online identity and the impact that this could have on their personal and professional image. One of the great freedoms that the internet affords is to be able to ’recreate oneself’ and to explore different aspects of one’s character in the creation an online identity. However, it is important to be aware of the repercussions of any unwise decisions in this regard. Even something as simple as adding a Facebook ‘like’ to a particular page might have unforeseen reputational impact.

7.4.2 It is now common for potential employers to search social networking sites for evidence of a job applicant’s character or credentials and the same information might be viewed by potential clients. It is also possible that colleagues or clients might come across this information and form a negative or unhelpful opinion of someone as a result.

7.4.3 Students intending to enter the legal or teaching professions or other positions where there will be significant responsibilities should be particularly sensitive to how they are portrayed on the internet.

7.4.4 Those students who undertake placements as part of their degree, or who come into contact with any individuals from any outside organisation in the course of their studies must be particularly aware of the dangers involved in discussing them in any way that could cause them to be identified or which might cause them embarrassment or distress. This is particularly important for students undergoing teacher training and it is also vital that photographs of children are not placed on the internet without the express permission of teachers and parents.

7.5 Privacy settings, terms and conditions and other regulatory issues

7.5.1 Many online social networking or media facilities allow users to set privacy levels. It is important that students are aware of how these work and recognise the importance of implementing appropriate settings. However, even the use of these settings does not preclude an account being ‘hacked’ or a friend copying material which has been uploaded and posting it in a more public forum.

7.5.2 Students should ensure that they know the identity of people whom they add to networks as friends, remembering that anyone can search for names on Facebook and similar sites and access profile pictures. It is also possible for people to “fish” many sites for names and other personal details.

7.5.3 Where students are in a position of trust or responsibility they should take particular care not to breach that trust by placing online any information which may be confidential or may compromise their position. This is especially important for anyone acting as a mentor or counsellor.

7.5.4 Similarly, students should also consider the wisdom of accepting invitations to join the networks of other individuals, especially if these are children or persons over whom they have a duty of care or confidentiality. This can also have unforeseen consequences and may compromise professional relationships with that individual or cause others to question judgement and even motives.

7.5.5 If students are working in, or with, external organisations such as schools or companies, they should familiarise themselves with, and pay due regard to, any regulations which that organisation has in place governing the use of social networking sites.

7.5.6 It is important that students are also familiar with the terms and conditions set down by the social networking sites themselves and any updates or modifications made to those terms and conditions. They should particularly note any third party recipients of their personal data (i.e. anybody the website may pass personal details on to) and details relating to ownership of any material they post on the website (e.g. who owns the words, sounds, photographs and other images once they have been uploaded).

7.5.7 Care should be taken when re-using any comments or images posted on social networking sites. Students should respect the ownership rights of copyright holders and should seek appropriate permission for the copying and re-use of material.

7.5.8 Students should never attempt to pass off others’ works or as their own, whether that is within, or external to, an educational setting. This includes anything from minor comments to artistic works. Any attempt to pass off another person’s work as one’s own in an academic context is likely to result in disciplinary action.

7.5.9 In addition to clauses 17.5.7 and 17.5.8, students should refer to the University’s Regulation on Unacceptable Academic Practice which can be found at: https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/academic-registry/handbook/regulations/#academic-regulations