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updated: 8/28/2014 8:22 PM

Social media message hasn't changed -- use it wisely

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Anyone out there remember Friendster? How about MySpace?

I didn't think so.

OK, well maybe some of you remember those social media websites but when they were popular the term social media wasn't. In fact, a short six years ago there were still those who didn't think social networking (that's what it was called then) would ever make it.

Oh, how wrong they were.

If you've seen the movie The Social Network then you know Facebook originally was for college students only. It wasn't until 2006 that Facebook became open to non-students.

Earlier this year Facebook turned 10 years old and while it remains the top social media site in terms of users, teens have turned to Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as their sites of choice.

And how does this relate to high school football and high school sports in general?

Well, as we stand ready for the kickoff to the 2014 high school football season, social media has never been more of a topic in high school sports than it is today. More high school athletes than ever now rely on social media sites to promote themselves, their schools, their teams, etc.

Much of the social media boom in high school sports has been for the good. College coaches now rely heavily on Facebook, Twitter and other sites as recruiting tools. One college softball coach told me this summer she can learn more about a potential recruit by looking at their Facebook page and Twitter feeds than she can in a personal visit.

But for as much good as social media has done for high school sports, it's also become one of the growing concerns that administrators and coaches have to deal with.

While researching the topic for this column, I had to go halfway through a second page of a Google search to find an article that was positive. To that point, every link was either about a suspension due to an inappropriate post, or an article about what not to do on the Internet.

You would think by now high school student-athletes would know exactly what to do and not to do on a social media site but, sadly, many still don't. Far too many kids still think it's OK to post party pictures, or to trash talk an opponent or, worse yet, threaten or bully someone through a post or a tweet. The sad part is that many times those discussions are started by adults who clearly should know better.

It's also caused more schools each year to revise their athletic code of conduct to include specific guidelines for social media, something Elgin Area School District U-46 is in the process of.

"We're revising the code and it will be a mirror image of our acceptance of use policy for the Internet in school," said Larkin athletic director Mark Ribbens. "You have to be careful of what you put out there. I don't follow any of the student-athletes on Twitter or Facebook and I'm not going to but some things have come across my desk and unfortunately some student-athletes have gotten themselves into a pickle.

"Once it's out there it's out there. It has to be acceptable. It has to be something your own mother would be OK with."

Burlington Central AD Steve Diversey said his school doesn't have a specific social media policy for student-athletes, but the school does take an educational approach to the subject.

"We want to educate kids that colleges and everybody looks at what you post," he said. "It goes along with character education. We're not the social media police but the kids have to know that people are watching. Our coaches are building things into their programs to make sure there's no bullying or hazing and that what the kids post is positive. Ultimately we can't govern what a kid posts on their personal website. We can't control what they do outside of school but if we become aware of something that falls under our guidelines we deal with it."

Diversey also believes one of the concerns about the future of social media has to do with age.

"The scary part is the generational gap," he said. "My 3-year old is doing things on an iPad that blows me away. Our kids view the use of technology and social media differently than we do."

To Ribbens, that's where parents have to step in.

"(Social media) should be about promotion and connecting," he said. "Protect yourself and protect your family. We tell parents to monitor their sons' and daughters' social media sites because it's instant and things can go in a wrong direction quickly."

Many websites are devoted to suggesting the do's and don'ts of social media. Google social media and high school sports and you could spend the next week reading what "experts" suggest you do and don't do on social media if you're a high school athlete.

I'll make it simple by recalling what a former supervisor of mine said back in 1997 when I was hired full-time by the Daily Herald and assigned the only desk in our office that, at that time, had a computer with an Internet connection.

"Anything you do on the World Wide Web can be tracked," he said. "Anything."

And that was in 1997.

So the bottom-line message here hasn't changed, it's just become louder.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. They are all great tools to promote yourself, your team, your school, and all the good things that go on every day in high school sports.

Just use them wisely, or be prepared for the consequences.

Now let's play some football.

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