Conquering Context Collapse

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On the blog recently, I wrote about It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Danah Boyd’s landmark study on kids’ use of social media. The upshot of Boyd’s work is that the kids are (generally) alright, although they need caring adults to keep an eye on them in the online world.

Of course, most adults spend a lot of time online as well, and many Scout leaders are connected to their Scouts and their families via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. (I always think it’s cool when a former Scout or youth group member sends me a connection request on LinkedIn, the business and professional counterpart to Facebook.) When we connect with our Scouts online, we need to be aware of context collapse.

What’s context collapse? It’s the situation where all your various worlds collide online, where your professional, family, and social lives intersect. Thanks to context collapse, your boss can see your vacation photos, your friends can see what you’re saying about work, and—most importantly for our purposes—your Scouts can see what you’re liking on Facebook, whether that’s Lolcats, a political cause, or your favorite microbrewery.

Context collapse happens in the real world, of course. You may go to church with troop families, for example, or you could happen to run into a Scout parent at a liquor store or political rally. But social media make context collapse an everyday occurrence.

So what can you do? One study I read offered three strategies:

  1. Keep Scouting contacts out of your social networks.
  2. Create separate social media accounts for Scouting.
  3. Adopt a lowest-common-denominator approach where everything you post online is safe for all audiences.

Each strategy has its own advantages and disadvantages. I personally have adopted the third strategy. You’ll never see me post anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for the youngest Scout to read, and if you want to know about my political leanings or adult-beverage preferences, you’ll have to ask.

You may adopt another strategy. That’s fine, but you do need to think about how context collapse affects the person your Scouts see when they visit your Facebook page.

Note: Before you interact with Scouts online, you should review the BSA’s social media guidelines. Youth Protection policies like two-deep leadership apply online, just as they apply at meetings and activities.

How do you deal with context collapse? The comments section is open.

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