In the article School heads called parents in cyberbully case, Chris Kenrick reports on a situation of cyberbullying and its handling in the Gunn and Palo Alto high schools. Make no mistake that this is not a one-off unique situation that has happened only in California’s Silicon Valley. This is a global phenomenon that continues to grow as access to technology continues to increase. The rules of acceptable use and acceptable enforcement of unacceptable use are currently being written (and rewritten) around the globe as I type this blog. A couple of key questions arise in the case of Facebook hate groups and negative posts and comments posted on social networking sites: Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online? Whose responsibility is it to handle unacceptable online behavior?
Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?
Without a doubt, home is where all learning begins. However, let’s face it! All homes do not possess the time, awareness, knowledge, and expertise in the proper combinations to teach anything and everything. I, for one, am very thankful for those who impart their knowledge of numerous subjects to my children on a daily basis (Math is one that comes to mind) as my areas of expertise are limited. In our home, we all have a high level of comfort and ability when it comes to technology. Social networking, privacy settings, along with appropriate pictures and posts are frequent topics of conversation. Many parents, however, do not possess even a basic knowledge of these topics and often become very uncomfortable when confronted with a new piece of technology. So, at least for now, the responsibility frequently falls to the education profession to take on a significant role in guiding students through the 21st century and all of the amazing networking options it has to offer. In addition, I would strongly suggest that schools also have a leading role to play in the education of parents. By helping parents to develop their own understandings of social networking and online safety, we not only enter into a partnership, but we are able to shift more responsibility to parents as time goes on.
I am also of the mind that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube share in the responsibility to teach children to be safe online. How difficult would it be for major websites frequented by minors to create online safety campaigns offering advice and guidelines to children and their parents? These websites certainly possess the medium and skilled employees to create instructional videos, infographics, billboards, and memes. O.K., so apparently there is a Family Safety Center on Facebook and Safety: Parent and Teen Tips on Twitter, but is this enough? My vision would include the use of media that parents are more likely to encounter in their daily lives including billboards on their commute to work, TV commercials during shows that parents watch (or on those annoying TVs at the grocery store cash registers), and ads on websites frequented by parents.
Cigarette companies are obliged to put a warning label on their product, perhaps Facebook needs to also consider something similar.
Whose responsibility is it to handle unacceptable online behavior?
One might argue who is responsible to hand unacceptable online behavior. Once again, one’s first instinct might be, “Well, the parents, of course!” However, I can tell you (as the wife of a Middle School Principal) that all too often the first instinct is, “How are you (the principal or the school) going to handle this?” This may very well be because, oftentimes (as is highlighted in the Palo Alto case), the offensive comment begins off campus on a social networking site, but then spills over into the corridors and classrooms during the next school day.
The responsibility to handle unacceptable online behavior becomes a team effort with the school administrator working with both the students and the parents. This intervention typically results in a learning experience for students and parents. Recently, my principal husband revealed to a group of students, whose problems were exacerbated by social networking, how he was able to read all of the their status updates and ensuing comments without even being their “friend.” The result was advice and a quick lesson on privacy settings. Another situation unexpectedly revealed to parents that their child actually had more than one profile on a social networking site and that each profile was being used for very different purposes.
When it comes to online safety and acceptable behavior, it is extremely important that everyone in the lives of children take on a role of responsibility. It is difficult to hold a teenager accountable for her negative rants about school officials if she sees her parents using Facebook to air their own annoyances with employers and family members. It is also difficult to hold teenagers accountable for the pictures they post when they can Google a teacher only to find compromising pictures posted on the teacher’s public MySpace page. It probably goes without saying, but in the realm of creating responsible digital citizens, it takes a global village.