A girl has just uploaded a photo of herself in swimwear at the beach. Moments later, someone left a comment saying “I didn’t know you can fit into this”.
The girl then reacts by posting a new image depicting an airport landing, tagging the person who had left the aforementioned comment in her previous post. Her caption reads: “I’m sure you can relate to this”.
This exchange took place on social media platform Instagram.
“I will ask my participants, what do they think of this kind of behaviour? How do they feel about this exchange?” BrandImage professional consultant Wendy Lee said during an interview in Shah Alam, Selangor.
The story of the girl and the way she reacted to a negative comment on Instagram is one of the case studies presented in BrandImage International Institute’s session on social media etiquette.
Lee explained that social media conduct is now being offered as part of a two-day etiquette course for children and youngsters, which has been around since 2018.
“The idea to dedicate part of our etiquette course towards social media started through a series of discussions with our corporate clients and parents. Some of our corporate clients asked us to look into this because they are dealing with younger employees whom they feel can benefit from some lessons on social media etiquette,” Lee explained.
She added that parents have raised concerns that their child’s employability in the future may be affected due to having a negative social media presence.
“They want us to help remind the children that certain unsavoury online postings can affect them later in life when an employer decides to Google them.”
Youth Etiquette School (YES) KL principal Mary Anni Masarip faced a similar issue when she was conducting a session on helping students at secondary and university level to get ready for the workforce.
“We learned that a lot of young participants lack proper etiquette or understanding on how to send properly-worded emails. How did these youngsters come to a point where they think it’s okay to send a message like “PM tepi” (a colloquial term for ‘send a private message’) to potential employers on social media?” Mary shared during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2017, YES KL – an Ampang-based private training centre – introduced lessons on social media conduct under My Manners Matter, a one-day etiquette class aimed at primary school-aged children. She feels that after hearing how some youngsters lack basic manners on online platforms, there is a need to introduce social media etiquette to children at a much earlier age.
“Kids who are seven years old are already aware of what is social media; they just use it differently from adults – for example, as a form of entertainment. They need to learn about how to conduct themselves better and be mindful on social media,” Mary said.
“I also want them to ask themselves if what they intend to post on social media is true so they don’t end up spreading fake news or false claims,” she added.
Under the influence
According to Mary, social media platforms that are popular with kids aged around seven to 12 include TikTok and Snapchat, while participants in Lee’s sessions (ages 10 and above) prefer Instagram. YES KL’s course outline on social media etiquette opens with a reminder to participants that social media is meant for education, connecting with others and sharing valuable information.
Mary explained that the basis for interacting on social media is the same as speaking to anyone else offline. She hopes that they will be respectful and remember that there are some events where social media should be off-limits.
“I’ll show them a video of a person taking a selfie at a funeral and ask the students: what is wrong with this picture? Some of them will say they don’t see anything wrong with it. Then we explain why it’s not okay to take selfies during a funeral, as it’s insensitive towards others who are grieving,” she said.
As for Lee, her principle for social media etiquette is summed up as: “If you mother will scold you for it, then don’t post it.”
In lessons where participants learn about dealing with cyberbullying on social media, Lee will advise them not to react too harshly to negative comments.
“Just ignore or delete that comment. Do not post anything that will be detrimental to yourself or others. We hope that they will be able to speak to an adult if something on social media is affecting them or other people,” she said.
Lee shared how a participant had purposely tagged a friend in a post depicting a happy family, as a way of poking fun at the friend whose parents had just gotten a divorce. Lee will then explain how bullying is unacceptable behaviour on social media, just as it is in real life.
“Some kids are aware of how they can be unkind on social media but they just have a different level of understanding how their actions can affect other people. We try to make kids understand fully that cyberbullying can lead to real-world consequences such as driving another person towards self-harm,” Lee said.
The social media etiquette lessons at YES KL also addresses how children should not post content just for popularity on social media. In a series of discussions with children at her sessions, Mary realised that some kids believe that if a content gets millions of online views or traction, then it must be a positive thing.
“For example, some prank videos on YouTube get a lot of views and kids are entertained by this type of content. They would leave comment laughing at the ‘victim’ in the video. Some of them would even try to deliberately hurt their friends just to post their reactions on social media,” she said, adding that children need to be reminded that it's not okay to behave in such a manner.
Sudha Kudva, a Kuala Lumpur-based counsellor and author of the book Childhood Matters: How We Interact With Kids Makes A Big Difference, feels that this could be because some children try to find a sense of belonging through social media.
"Children could develop a sense of insecurity that happens due to lack of appropriate engagement with adults in their lives. That insecurity could make them believe they are ‘invisible’.
“When a child believes they are invisible, that Internal State of a child finds different ways of becoming visible – for example posting inappropriate stuff on social media that receives many comments and likes,” she elaborated.
Sudha thinks that children who could be more insecure within are usually more inclined to create posts that can attract a lot of comments/likes/dislikes.
“This virtual visibility is better than no visibility. The repercussions of such posts can be painful, however this doesn’t come to mind when they are created,” she added.
Parental support needed
Mary feels that teaching children social media etiquette will be pointless if they do not implement any measures to practice what they have learned beyond the classroom. This is where she hopes parents would step in.
“In some cases, we’ll have a two-hour session with parents. We give them some tips such as introducing a one-hour quality time rule where you are encouraged to put away all devices and spend time together,” she said.
Lee said students in her class will be asked to reflect on what they have learned.
“They usually express how they wish to spend less time on social media, enjoy more quality time with parents and avoid using phones during dinner. We’ll contact them again in three months to see if they managed to stick to their goals,” she said.
Lee will also discuss with parents ways to help keep track of their child’s activities on social media.
“Kids tend to block their parents because they don’t want mum to be leaving comments on their social media postings. So I will suggest a compromise like a social media agreement. As a parent, you can allow your child to be on social media and you must play a role in monitoring how much time they spend. The key here is to be open so they will learn to trust you enough to be able to express how they feel if something goes wrong on social media,” she stated.
Mary concurred that parents should not stop their children from being on social media.
“Instead of saying no, how about looking at kid-friendly version of apps such as YouTube Kids? Allow them to see positive content such as an individual rescuing animals. We will also recommend monitoring tools to parents such as an application that blocks children from searching certain keywords on the Internet,” she said.
More likes and shares for social media etiquette
According to the Internet Users Survey 2018 conducted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on 4,160 Internet users nationwide, 28.5% are parents with children aged between five to 17 years old. Nine out of ten of these children access the Internet through the smartphone for reasons like social networking and watching videos. Among these parents, 75.5% of them set rules and limits on Internet usage to their children.
MCMC said in most situations, children are not being informed about social media apps by their parents. Instead, children learn from friends, older siblings, and other influencers.
“Hence, it is important for parents to take an active role in initiating the conversations and guide their children into better managing and using the Internet,” MCMC said in a statement to StarLifestyle Tech.
One of the conducts that MCMC encourages parents to instil in children is being respectful of others.
“Nasty behaviour is not acceptable in the cyber world as well as in the real world. Hence, parents must teach their children the culture of treating others fairly, respectfully and politely. Not by spreading rumours or posting insulting comments about others that may lead to unwanted incidents or chaos.”
The National Union of the Teaching Profession president Aminuddin Awang is urging the Education Ministry to look into introducing special ethical codes for social media use among among students in Malaysia, starting from the primary school level.
“Our children are going to grow up to become individuals who will play a part in the country’s development. They need the foundation for good conduct on social media now,” he said during an interview in KL.
One of the forms of good behaviour that Aminuddin hopes to implement in the possible social media etiquette guideline for students is a reminder to not send messages to teachers via WhatsApp at odd hours.
“We have received numerous complaints from teachers about students who send messages at times like after 6pm or during weekends. If possible, we hope that students can be more mindful before messaging their teachers – they have to consider that after school, teachers may have to attend to other duties such as family matters,” he said.
Aminuddin added that now is more crucial than ever to start cultivating good social media behaviour in children.
“I don’t want children to end up saying or doing things online that can cause racial tension with their fellow Malaysians. I think they need to be reminded of how to be sensitive and respectful towards others of different races and beliefs,” he said.
As for YES KL, the private training centre has started Mannervellous, a campaign to introduce social media etiquette to children in primary schools this year. Mary and her team have conducted free two-hour sessions at more than 10 schools in KL, Selangor and Putrajaya.
“It’s not just the ministry’s responsibility or other non-governmental organisations role to introduce social media etiquette in schools. We shouldn’t wait. That is why we take the initiative to give free lessons in primary schools,” Mary said.
She added more people should remember that children today will grow up to become voters when they turn 18. The Bill to amend the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 passed at the Dewan Rakyat back in July.
“What children see on social media is what they believe in nowadays. If you have children, I encourage you start helping them to understand some social media etiquette,” Mary concluded.