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Security stories

What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About Twitter

You figure that by the time you hear about a new site on the Internet, the kids are moving on to the next new thing. From Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, social networking sites get huge and then seem lose their cool before anyone knows what do with them.

So why should you care about another social network? Isn’t an Internet fad already over by the time it’s referenced by the parents in cell phone commercials? Well, Twitter is here to stay.

An October Pew study found that 1 out of 5 Internet users are using Twitter or another site to update their status. And this is just the beginning.

This article lays out the specific concerns parents and educators might have about Twitter. You may also want to check out our guide to safe Tweeting. If you don't understand what all the buzz is about Twitter, head over to monitter and enter in any subject you're interested in. You may be shocked by how many interesting conversations you can join or just observe right now.

Do Teens Tweet?

This is a question that has been debated constantly over the last year. It’s obvious that Twitter is growing, but does the fact that 80% of Twitter users say that they use the service for business turn young people off?

Maybe—but check out the trending topics on Twitter right now. You’ll probably see something to do with Twilight or Harry Potter or Miley Cyrus. When Miley Cyrus supposedly quit Twitter, she had over two million followers. Likely, most of those followers were teens or tweens. And more young people are using the site every day.

Like every technology, it can be used for good or evil

How Is Twitter Different Than Facebook?

Facebook is a closed network. Users get to decide who can see thier Facebook page. Facebook gives you the ability to limit who sees any picture, video or link you post online.

Twitter only has only one privacy option. If you “Protect Your Tweets” only the people you approve will be able to easily access your posts. Otherwise, whatever you post is fair game and can be seen by anyone.

Since so many people are on Twitter to spread a message, very few people protect their Tweets. In fact, RTs or “retweets” or cutting and pasting what another person has Tweeted and sending it out yourself, is seen as a compliment on the service.

Can Twitter Be Educational?


Some people may just see Twitter as a just way to get a little closer to Ashton Kutcher, but Twitter provides an easy way for people to keep track of politicians, journalists and experts from around the globe. Students can follow their heroes in ways that just weren't possible before. NASA even had an astronaut Tweet from the Space Shuttle. Something cool and possibly historic was Tweeted today.

Twitter can also help students become better writers. The 140-character limit forces users to compose precise and concise messages. If you have a teenager that doesn’t see the value of revising what they write, Twitter will teach him or her that every letter counts.

Teachers and professors are also integrating Twitter into their lesson plans, using it to update students, answer questions and supplement the curriculum.

Is Twitter Safe?

Twitter has had its share of security concerns. As with any social network, the problems stem mostly from the links that people share and not the site itself.

Before using Twitter or any social networking website, make certain that your PC is running updated security software. Also, make sure that your PC is patched and protected with the latest security updates—F-Secure’s Health Check makes that easy.

Once you’ve covered the basic precautions, your security depends on the choices you make.
The two biggest security threats students will face are from the links and so-called phishing scams.

Because of the character limits, links are Twitter are usually shortened. If you post a link, Twitter will even shorten it for you automatically. These shortened links can lead anywhere, which is why good security software matters so much.

Students should know that the links on Twitter can lead to trouble, so click cautiously and expand any shortened link you’re not certain of using a site like longurl.org.

Phishing scams appear all over the Internet. The bad guys set up legitimate looking sites in an effort to get people to enter personal information. In the worst case scenario, phishing scams can lead to credit card scams or even identity theft. Luckily most teens don’t have access to credit card numbers. If they do, the smart thing is to limit the use of the cards to a very few reputable sites like Amazon or iTunes.

Tell your students to guard their personal information, including login and password information. Tell them never to enter private information into an unknown site without checking with an adult to make sure that the site is legitimate.

Students should also be aware that they may be asked for money—either out of sympathy or in a “get rich quick” scheme. Ignore these messages and avoid the trouble that comes with them.
Bad guys are on Twitter and they get trickier all the time, so stay cautious.

What Special Precautions Should Students Take?

Protecting Tweets is a good idea for young people.

Students can click the box to “protect your tweets” in the settings tab at the bottom of the page. But know this: even if their posts are protected, their friends’ messages to them and about them are still public and available for everyone to see.

Even if students decide to protect their tweets, advise them to never detail their plans or reveal their exact location. There have been reports of criminals using social network sites to find out when their intended victims won’t be home. No need to make life any easier for the bad guys.

With just a little caution, Twitter can be an invaluable supplement to any student's eduation.