Legislature to address social media safety

Photo courtesy: Erin Murray – Bay News 9

Brandi Gurley, principal of Orange County Virtual School, has noticed the prevalence of social media and online interaction in her students throughout the school day. She understands that her high school students overwhelmingly use the internet to communicate, connect and explore.

“The biggest challenge is finding the balance,” Gurley told The Famuan. “The exposure to social media is a problem.  The kids don’t have the conscience to understand that it can all turn so quick.”

Although the internet is a place of opportunity and resources, it has proven to be extremely dangerous over time. Common experiences of sexual assault, kidnapping and hacking have demonstrated the fragility of online interaction and highlight the necessary care needed while using it.

Whether it’s knowing the signs of predatory behavior or the impact of cyberbullying, students need to realize how the internet functions in their life to behave accordingly and safely. A new Florida Senate bill proposed in December acknowledges the use of social media by students and would require changes to the curriculum in  Florida’s public schools.

Senate Bill 52 properly defines “social media” in state law for the first time in history as “a form of interactive electronic communication through an Internet website or application by which a user creates a service-specific identifying user profile to connect with other users of the Internet website.”

The bill would require schools to mandate social media safety instruction as well as notify parents of its existence online.

LaToya Henry, a parent and school administrator in Atlanta, explained her personal choice in limiting her children’s online access and having critical conversations early.

“My kids were not allowed to have social media till they were the age of 13 and we knew their passwords and they were not allowed to change it,” Henry said. “They went to workshops to understand how their choices can impact their future.”

Henry believes that students need to be educated on their “electronic footprint” and realize the longevity of their social media posts and the long-term effects it could have.

The new legislation would give parents and students access to detailed knowledge on the complexity of the internet and its benefits as well as the risks with online interaction.

A companion bill, House Bill 379, also states that each school district must prohibit students’ access to social media platforms through any internet service provided by the district.

The impact of online interaction can be seen on larger scales than just K-12 schools in Florida. With the rise of a new anonymous social media platform, Fizz, that is targeted towards college campuses, Florida A&M University students are also learning the negative effects of virtual communication.

Devin Nobles, a third-year engineering student at FAMU, was surprised to see how his peers interacted online when they remained unknown.

“They are bullying each other, posting personal Instagram pages and meeting up with random people,” Nobles said. “It can be a fun app at times, but it’s really sad to witness.”

FAMU has confirmed that it has no association with the platform, yet thousands of students still use it daily. Despite having reporting and blocking features on the app, it is still a breeding ground for inappropriate conversations and school-wide exposure.

Florida’s new proposed legislation would be monumental to the course of state education by incorporating the societal norms of virtual interaction. The Senate and House bills are set to go into effect on July 1, if approved by both chambers and signed by the governor.