Staying safe online: Texts, Tweets, Trolls and Teens: Asurvival Guide for Social Networking by Anita Naik
In the Brussels metro one Wednesday afternoon my eye was drawn to a long-haired youth in a t-shirt bearing the message ‘No I’m Not On F****** Facebook!’. If the teenager sporting this anti-social networking garb had not had such a morose demeanour I would have shaken his hand in solidarity, for I, too, shun the ever-omnipotent book of faces. While my stance is not unheard of amongst adults my age, my teenage counterpart must be one in a million. Or so I would have thought until I read Anita Naik’s highly informative book Texts, Tweets, Trolls and Teens. According to the Guardian, only 73% of UK teens use a social networking site. I would have put the figure much closer to 100. By contrast, I could not believe my eyes when I read that the average teenager sends more than 3,000 texts per month. That’s 100 a day. Any teens reading this, please, resist the urge to text this stat to your friends. Your online survival might just depend on it.
Naik’s main objective is not to shock with statistics but rather to make youngsters aware that the vast power of the internet comes with great risks. To help kids stay safe online she offers advice on everything from passwords and cyber-bullying to the psychology of ‘trolling’ and the warping potential of online pornography. There’s also a useful section on gadget addiction, which makes it ironic that her title is available as an ebook.
Finding the right tone in such books is always tricky. Fortunately, for the most part Naik gets it just right: accessible but not patronising; funny without cringe-worthy attempts at ‘cool.’ In this she helps herself by introducing each section with a relevant quote from a teenager. Some of these thoughts are sensible and mature, others worryingly naïve and two, for different reasons, leave a lasting impression. On the subject of flirting by text a 13-year-old girl named MJ says, with commendable though somewhat cryptic honesty, ‘”I flirt all the time by text. It’s fun, it doesn’t always mean anything,”‘ while 14-year-old Jules’ password philosophy hints at a Machiavellian take on the meaning of friendship: ‘”I’d say about five of my friends know my password. It’s OK, I trust them. I know their passwords too, so if they ever did anything I’d do something back.”‘
Though the book is aimed at teens, I recommend parents and teachers cast a glance, if only because it will help them make sense of all those acronyms. Let me test adults’ knowledge of this topic by copying the engaging quiz format that Naik employs throughout her book:
1) What does AITR stand for?
a) America instigates the rapture.
b) Anyone interested? Thatcher’s resurrecting.
c) Am I that repulsive?
d) Adult in the room.
The only criticism I can make of this otherwise excellent work is that Naik doesn’t go far enough. As I write these words somebody at a nearby desk is texting, blissfully unaware of or perhaps indifferent to the click-click-click of every keystroke. I know Naik’s book is a survival and not an etiquette guide, but I wish she’d found a smidgen of room to tell kids that, for example, playing music from a mobile while riding on a public bus is the height of rudeness and might one day lead a small-time book critic to SNATCH THAT BLOODY PHONE FROM YOUR GRUBBY HANDS AND SMASH IT TO PIECES. Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, furthermore, amidst all the figures there is no mention of the well-established scientific fact that 98% of all teenage phone conversations are pointless, inane and far too loud and could easily be conducted via SMS (though perhaps by the 101st text even the most dexterous teen has a sore thumb).
Another, more urgent omission is an explanation of the physiological benefits that await teens if they turn off their gadgets from time to time. Sleep experts have established a clear link between hours spent staring at an LCD screen prior to bedtime and the inability to fall asleep. Perhaps Naik could have also devised a graph showing the inverse relationship between the number of meaningless texts and academic performance.
Naik’s advice and suggestions are sound, but I must take issue with one of her submissions. ‘Most of the things people do on Youtube,’ she writes in her chapter on social media, ‘are funny, clever and smart.’ Hmm. As far as I can tell half of youtube is devoted to the capriciousness of cats, and the other half is football clips accompanied by blaring techno music. And as for the message boards…
That aside, this is an fantastic book for teenagers, parents and teachers. Great in its own right, it is also a perfect accompaniment to the Computing programme of study.