Who Controls Your Social Media Content?

Social media websites offer a wonderful array of services and content, the likes of which we have not seen before. In the enthusiasm for social media, we can forget who controls the service. Social media companies occasionally remind us that they own the playground by exerting their authority in ways that upset or disappoint users. School leaders can help a school community maintain perspective when using social media and provide support when things go wrong.



Google is cracking down on underage accounts. Students under 13 years old who accurately reported their age when creating a GMail account are being shut out without warning, losing access to saved email messages and contacts. Why? They clicked on the Google+ trial, which triggered an age check for their GMail account, even though the age restrictions for Google+ and GMail are different. Students are warned that their account will be deleted in 30 days. Users are surprised and sometimes hurt.


Google offers the opportunity to reactivate a suspended account with a valid credit card, which apparently demonstrates that the user is an adult or has the permission of an adult. Children and parents therefore face a choice: falsify the child’s age in order to keep the account open or comply with Google’s action and shut down the account. I suspect that many choose the former.



How many times has this happened? Facebook changes the profile page layout, and cries of outrage rise up. Thousands of users join a statement to “bring back the old Facebook.” Also often repeated: Facebook announces a change in practice that will publicly release formerly private information about you. Usually, Facebook ignores the outrage and objections slowly subside until the next system change. Why do people become so upset about these changes? Do users feel a sense of ownership of their personal information, even when they freely provide it to a website owned by someone else? Facebook’s changes challenge these presumptions.


Schools for run workshops with parents, students, or teachers to remind them that Facebook is a company with business interests that often run counter to their users’ expectations. Users should prepare for thehigh likelihood that Facebook will continue to tinker with the user interface and privacy practices.



That “anyone can edit” Wikipedia articles does not mean that anyone may edit them. A small collection of volunteers review and often reject page edits, based on rules that are difficult for the novice to understand. Edits are rejected because they “do not meet Wikipedia’s quality standards,” “reflect bias,” or “are not notable by Wikipedia’s standards.”


Schools can support teachers and communication specialists by helping them understand the nuances of editing Wikipedia pages before they attempt to do so. Users should realistically assess the chances that their edits will be accepted.


Who owns the content?

Media sites such as Flickr and YouTube also create rules to govern site content, but users do not run afoul of them as often. It is worth noting that most of these sites indicate that you own the content you post to the site, but the service has unlimited license to use the content. Did you know that? The YouTube terms of service are typical.

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your Content. However, by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

Schools can support foundational social media literacy in their communities by holding workshops and disseminating information about savvy use of social media.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Richard Kassissieh

Richard Kassissieh

Academic Dean at University Prep (Seattle)

Richard Kassissieh's background includes teaching, leadership, and administration. He believes in strong pedagogy, reaching all learners, and building systems to serve schools. Richard has served as technology director at University High School (San Francisco) and Catlin Gabel School (Portland, Oregon). Prior to that, he taught chemistry at The Taft School (Connecticut), Maru-a-Pula School (Botswana), and Gateway High School (San Francisco). Richard writes online at Kassblog.com and @kassissieh.