Realities of social media use in education: dangers and pitfalls

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Social Media Collage

My previous three blogs on the theme of social media use in education highlighted some of the benefits for educators and students. This blog will highlight some dangers and pitfalls.

These fall into the categories of access, digital literacy, privacy, data protection and social factors


It is wrong to assume that all students, regardless of their age, have access to smartphone technologies and sufficient data to engage in mobile online learning, regardless with flavour of social media used. Mobile phone access is fairly consistent in New Zealand amongst secondary school children at between 62% (2021 to date) and 78% (2019) but that is far from ubiquitous (1). Amongst the total population it is reportedly as high as 97% but still not universal.(2) There is a danger that in seeking to be inclusive teachers may exclude individuals.

Digital Literacy

While there may be advantages to ‘go where the kids are’, given the caveat above, the second assumption made in the popular press is that tweens and teens are all ‘digital natives3. Certainly they are ‘digital residents4, having been born into a digital age where such technologies are no longer seen as an addendum to life but fully integrated. However, no one  assumes everyone has the ability to speak, write and read languages to the same degree. We accept that there are children and young people, and indeed those already in the workforce, who have literacy challenges. Likewise, the ability to read screens and navigate their way app menus is too much for some.

Given that the society we are intending to prepare our learners for is a digital one, it makes sense to ensure that they are digitally literate but not to assume that they are all at the same stage.


An important dimension of digital literacy is an awareness of the persistence of the digital footprint. A simply illustration of this is the recognition that we have taken more photographs in the last five years than in all the years prior combined. In 2015 the New York Times estimated between 2.5-3.5 Trillion photographs had been taken. This year alone, 1.4 Trillion photographs are expected to be taken. A reasonable proportion of these are posted to social media platforms. Every drunken party, every sexual misdeed, substance abuse, criminal misdemeanour that previous generations would have only memories of, are now in danger of being immortalised in digital imagery.

Learning to value one’s own identity, to curate one own image and reputation, is a challenge for the young. Our society, which has been forgiving in the past of the many misdoings of youth, now are confronted with enduring reminders of them. The days when public online bulletin boards provided anonymity and ‘no one knows your a dog’ are largely gone. Now, in the world of Facebook and Instagram the purpose is to be yourself.

On the internet noone knows you're a dog (cartoon)
Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker July 5, 1993


Data Protection

This leads me to the next danger in Social Media use in Education that of data protection. Government Privacy Laws change over time to catchup with the social norms. Recent changes to New Zealand Privacy Legislation seeks to protect the individual from disclosing anything they do not want shared. This means that providing a platform, or encouraging the sharing of social interactions through social media, may make the educator liable for the disclosure of private information among their learners. Educators must take responsibility to ensure that they follow the legal advice provided to them by the school, college or tertiary institution.

Social Factors

If all these factors are putting you off exploring social media as a tool for educators, you are right to pause for thought. A final issue, harder to quantify, is the social impact of social media, particularly on youth and the ability to create and sustain positive self-image and relationships. Mainstream media is keen to report instances of cyberbullying, sometimes resulting in suicides or self-harm. The uncontrollable and very public nature of victimisation through social media makes it hard to identify and prevent. Even moving schools does not solve the problem when the playground is a digital open space for anyone who wishes to take part. The social platform providers themselves have proven themselves to be inadequate guardians of the users’ wellbeing. Nor does banning mobile devices from places of learning work particularly well either. The onus is on educators to educate their learners on how to become digitally literate and responsible digital citizens.

So before you go…

So before you embrace social media as a classroom tool, I would suggest you watch the Social Dilemma 6, a docudrama available on Netflix, or search out your own deeper understanding of the way these tools have been designed. Remember they are often free to use, because you and your students are the product that these companies are selling. It’s the individual’s data profile that has value and we, as educators have a duty to ensure that we do not exploit that for a short-term win.

If your school, college or university has a digital learning strategy, and I don’t mean having a VLE and insisting that every course has a presence, but rather a desire to ensure that digital literacy is at the heart of the learning, then you are at an advantage. If your institution does not have such a strategy you may want to develop one. FLANZ may be able to help you to do that. If you are interested email me at

That is the last of a series of four blogs on social media use in education.

Next blog will explore the world of Virtual Reality and its promises.

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson (Profile)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

  2. Statistica Data
  3. Prensky, M. On the Horizon. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” Pages 1-6. Accessed April 1, 2021.
  4. White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday.
  5. 1.4 Trillion :
  6. The Social Dilemma 2020 – Documentary/Docudrama – Netflix. Dir: Jeff Orlowski. (1h 34m)
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Social Media in Tertiary Education: moving outside the walled garden

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Image of adults looking at laptps in a busy coffeeshop

The second blog post in this series of four briefly outlined options for secondary school teachers to leverage the functionality of social media platforms. This third post examines in more depth the benefits for tertiary students. The same caveats still apply though; faculty need to be aware of their institutional policies and adhere to national legislation, particularly in the realm of privacy and data protection.

The Ubiquitous Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) 

The vast majority of tertiary providers, certainly the Universities and Polytechnics & Institutes of Technology (ITP) and Industry Training Organisations (ITO) host their own virtual learning environment (VLE). They do this to integrate the learning resources and articulated learner journey with backend enrolments, identity and payments systems. VLEs have become a common experience for most adult learners in formal education. Continue reading “Social Media in Tertiary Education: moving outside the walled garden”

Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: some important things to be aware of

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Screen showing social media apps

Given how acclimated most students are to some form of social media, it is worth exploring how such tools may benefit their learning journey. Each social media platform offers different opportunities, from simply making classroom announcements to having live synchronous sessions. Social media represents immediacy, or presence, that can make the student feel more in touch, more supported than the traditional discussion board.

Teachers thinking about making use of social media should always know both their institutions’ guidelines and national legislation. School policies may restrict the use of mobile devices in the classroom and national legislation around data protection and privacy needs to be considered.

My last blog outlined some of the broad opportunities and challenges represented by the use of social media in education. In this blog, I Want to focus on the potential benefits of social media for learners and teachers in formal compulsory schooling, particularly secondary. Continue reading “Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: some important things to be aware of”

Is the Future of Education Inevitably Going to be Digital First?


Is it wise to assume that technology should be the basis for future educational growth and development? How is it possible for us to envisage a future for education that is based on the inequitable distribution of social capital that is reflected in the uneven access to technology? How is it possible to foresee the impact of future social upheavals resulting from pandemics, climate change or cataclysms? We may be able to provide alternative channels of content delivery, but can we use technology to substitute a learning experience?

In 1996 two publications came to notice. One was entitled the ‘Search for the Virtual Class’ (Tiffin & Rajasingham, 1995) and the second called ‘Mega-universities and knowledge media: Technology strategies for higher education’ (Daniel, 1996). Both advocated for global policymakers to embrace the power of educational technologies to both individualise and globalise opportunity.

There are strong arguments for educational policymakers to embrace technology in developed economies, economies in transition and developing economies. Developed economies are increasingly reliant of technology sectors and service sector roles, the focus as much on the lifelong learner who will experience more than one career in adulthood (Susskind & Susskind, 2017). This requires easily accessible ‘just-in-time’ updating of skills which is often promised by ‘e-learning solutions’, ‘bite-sized’ learning and micro-credentials. The digitisation of education intends to allow anytime-anywhere education. The more visionary institutions are seeking to become more flexible, allowing students to construct courses for academic credit without following a prescribed curriculum, to enrol on-demand, to be assessed when they deem themselves able. This, in theory, allows the learner to customise their journey, personalise their experience and to take autonomy over their education. Those of us working in these countries are likely to find that our accreditation and validation systems, our technology platforms and the skills of leaders are the largest obstacles in realising that vision.

For economies in transition, the challenges are often poorly adjusted technology infrastructures which lag, poorly trained teachers and faculty, and a lack of coherent government planning and management. Some of these countries are wealthy but have very unevenly distributed social capital. In these countries, the digital divide is a problem, sometimes with expensive solutions. Curiously, developing economies can find themselves at an advantage. Without the need to establish complicated and expensive copper-wire or fibre-optic infrastructures they have adopted mobile telecommunications solutions, designed learning for hand-held devices, leap-frogging technologies (Goldemberg, 2011) and put these to good work in providing richer learning materials directly into their classrooms (West & Chew, 2014)./p>

The is an argument that ‘digital-first’ makes sense when there is no technological infrastructure. No one would expect to see West African countries replace blackboards, first with whiteboards, then interactive whiteboards, then establish a wired internet infrastructure in order to adopt virtual learning environments. The challenge of accessing quality learning materials may see students going straight from blackboards to hand-held devices.

For those of us in developed economies with deeply engrained teaching practices, embedded in the evolutionary nature of technology, it is harder to rationalise the ‘digital-first’ argument. The fact that technology has not disrupted education in the way that it has other economic sectors may say something more profound about human nature. Humans are quintessentially social animals; they build social capital in association with others; they define themselves as they are, and who they aspire to be, with reference to others, either individually or collectively. As useful as many educational technologies are, they do not substitute for the human interactive learning experience.

We have yet to see Tiffin and Rajasingham’s envisaged haptic virtual-reality suited teenager riding her virtual hoverbike to a Niagara Falls field trip. Neither have we witnessed Daniel’s ‘new mega-university’ opening every week leveraging the power of knowledge media. Is this because technology has failed to keep up with the pace of our ambitions? Is it because the technology infrastructure simply does not support the institutional growth required to satisfy global demand?”

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson


  • Daniel, J. (1996). Mega-universities and knowledge media: Technology strategies for higher education. Kogan Page.
  • Goldemberg, J. (2011). Technological leapfrogging in the developing world. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 12(1), 135–142.
  • Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2017). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (Reprint edition). OUP Oxford.
  • Tiffin, J., & Rajasingham, L. (1995). In search of the virtual class: Education in an information society. Routledge.
  • West, M., & Chew, H. E. (2014). Reading in the mobile era: A study of mobile reading in developing countries. UNESCO.