Set up your own social network site

  • Goal

Create a safe and secure environment where young people can experiment with social software in a safe, sensible and secure way, with respect for privacy. This is especially interesting for youngsters, under the age of 13, who are often not allowed to register on the standard social software websites like Netlog, Facebook, Bebo etc.

  • Activity

Find a low cost, or free-of-charge platform which enables you to create your own social network. At Tonuso we used the Ning platform (which was free at that time of the research, but which has since adopted a paid for model). If the youngsters do not have an e-mail address, Hotmail, Yahoo, Google and so on, offer free options to create one. This e-mail address can then be used to register on the social network. Make sure that you are the network administrator and make the platform as attractive as possible with photos, videos, interactive games, etc. Take care in selecting who you grant access to the site. If you work with minors, privacy and security are very, very important.
Once the social network environment is set up, you can experiment with uploading, tagging and commenting pictures, you can start up a blog or use the email and chat function as you would do in any other social network platform. However, in this case, only counsellors and youngsters are on-board. Counsellors can interact in this safe environment and discuss ‘netiquette’, safety and privacy topics. This way, young people can experiment with the user profiles and privacy settings without risks.

  • Tools

A Ning website and a free email address such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo.

  • Results and evaluation

The young people in our day care centres were very enthusiast about the Ning website. For some of them it was their first contact with social networks and they loved using it. The youth workers took the opportunity to introduce concepts of privacy settings and safety. The content placed on the platform sometimes initiated opportunities to talk about themes that are difficult, such as violence, sex, abuse and so on. The youth workers noted that young people lose interest very quickly if the platform is not actively updated. New online activities and content is required so that they don’t lose interest. This brings along new tasks for the youth workers themselves and they are not always up for it.