Challenging Online Behaviour

12 July 2011 — 4 Comments

Recently I’ve been having a hard time deciding how best to deal with people through Facebook. I know there are a myriad of issues regarding engaging young people in a digital space (which I’ve written about before and posted guidance on), but it can be a useful and effective medium for youth work.

The problem I have been having is in challenging inappropriate behaviour. Often in my Facebook news feed, there is someone having a rant about something. Fair enough. I usually ignore it and move on, but on a few occasions I have felt the need to intervene. Here are some actual examples:

  • When one young person was threatening to assault another (I wrote about it here).
  • When a volunteer vented their anger about a particular situation.
  • When a young person posted a little too much information about their actions the night before.
  • And today, when I “unfriended” a young person for their constant abusive and one-sided tirade on a particular issue.

On each of these occasions I have gently offered a polite question in response to the issue, or have privately messaged the individual involved. As most of these challenges come out of relationship – I personally know each and every person I’ve described above – they have generally been well received and led to some good conversations.

Here’s the thing though; being really honest I’m concerned that I might end up becoming the cyber police! While I use Facebook as a tool, it’s not my job or concern to modify behaviour. I hate going online and thinking: “Hmm I might need to say something”, but I do want to challenge people and enourage them to think about the potential impact of their actions, especially when they seem unaware of who might read their updates.

Maybe it’s just me and I should simply get off Facebook and out of the way of young people who want to freely express themselves. Or maybe someone should take the time to guide, encourage and challenge behaviour from a position of trust. I think I need some help with this one!

How do you handle inappropriate behaviour online? What actions have you or would you take?


Posts Twitter Facebook

I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

4 responses to Challenging Online Behaviour

  1. For me, I guess it’s no different to how I would challenge someones’ behaviour in the ‘physical’ world and there are two common reasonings I would give.

    To those that have no religious faith, I would explore the consequences of such actions online (ie will this damage their reputation, will it affect them in the future because these comments cannot be erased once they are online).

    for those with religious faith, I would explore the issue of being an example and ambassador to God.

    I don’t think it’s wrong if you comment on what someone is saying or doing on facebook as if someone was being nasty to someone in the ‘real’ world I would speak to them about it.

    What I wouldn’t do is message them on facebook about it. always better to talk face to face as texting/ messaging always comes across more harsh as the human being has been taken out of the equation.

    • Thanks Smoorns,

      Your final point on talking face to face is absolutely vital! I didn’t mention that at all, and I think you’re right. It’s so difficult to convey meaning and sentiment through social media so meeting up and talking is so important to avoid misunderstanding.

      Thanks again for the comment.

  2. Hey Jon

    Great post – this is an issue we really need to get a handle on in working with young people.

    I’ve only really challenged online behaviour once. A teenager had liked something on facebook which wasn’t really the kind of thing you’d want a young person to be doing, let alone publicising it to the world. Nothing illegal and almost certainly fairly normal teenage behaviour but still didn’t need to be shared.

    I felt I didn’t really have the relationship with this person to say anything myself, not least because the person concerned was a young male and this wasn’t a topic I wanted to get into with him. So I spoke to someone else at church who leads the group which he was in. This leader wasn’t on facebook so hadn’t seen it themselves but was concerned to hear about it. I think after consideration, the leader spoke to the parents and the parents addressed it with the young person concerned.

    I hope that doing it that way saved embarrassment for the young person, and allowed the parents to be involved in something that whilst delicate, was an important part of growing up?

    • Thanks Dr Warwick!

      It is a big issue I think and we (as practitioners) need to build a useful response. There is a lot of work happening around this area, but still a bit hit and miss!

What do you think? Leave a Comment