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Should students be suspended over Facebook?

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A 13-year-old girl posted this status update on her Facebook page:

“I wish Osama Bin Laden would have killed my teacher instead of the 3,000 people in the twin towers”.

Here’s what happened after she hit the “Share” button . . .

I can see several of the points brought up here, but let me tell you what my first (and most firey) response is.

I agree that this is the wild, wild, west of the internet, but that doesn’t mean that behavior doesn’t come without consequences. We live in a world where Columbine has left an indelible impression on our society, where we hear about people committing suicide because of things posted about them on the internet and where parents, teachers and society at large are left to wonder what red flags were missed and how these tragedies could have been averted.

I also get that teenagers often do things they haven’t fully thought through. I was a teenager, I’ve said and done things that were immature and that I regret – because, well . . . I was immature. But I grew up in a different world. The 90’s don’t seem like that long ago to me, but the internet was something that we had just started discussing when I was 13. (p.s. I challenge someone out there to find me the video/commercial of a girl, on an abandoned freeway, whispering “it’s coming . . . the information super highway is coming”. It was on “Channel 1” when I was in Jr. High sometime between 1990 and 1993. I’ve been looking for a YouTube of that for years now!)

But I digress . . .

Whether we agree with what the school did or not, the fact of the matter is that what kids do online will be with them forever. In this case, when her name is Googled for college, for a job, or for any other reason – guess what’s going to come up top in the results? Well, maybe the story on CNN about how she said that Osama Bin Laden should have killed her teacher on 9/11.

It’s all nice and fine to play the victim card and say that her education was interrupted. But the truth of it all is that she made a bad choice, and with choices come consequences which for better or for worse are going to stick with this young lady for a long time. That’s what our kids need to understand. They are just not posting this to a group of friends, they are posting it to the world. And just because your Facebook status profile is “private” that doesn’t mean that your 500 friends have signed an NDA regarding your bad behavior. I think Miley Cyrus and Michael Phelps could tell us a think or two about that.

I’m sure that we have rules, guidelines and social evolution ahead of us that will tame this internet beast. Until then parents not only need to talk to their kids about how to use Facebook, safely and appropriately but our kids also need to understand that shouting things online is akin to shouting them in the public square downtown. I’m sure I’m invoking the spirits of internet karma and that when my kids hit Jr. High that we’ll be faced with multiple suspensions as I type, but I’m not down with the mother’s approach and opinion about how her daughter was victimized and that her education was interrupted.

What do you think?

Liked this post? Check out “Post Pictures of Your Kids Online? Watch This.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Angela Beth Montour 06/01/2011 at 3:23 pm

    If you can’t say (or type) anything nice, don’t say (or type) anything at all.
    This is a lesson that a lot of kids haven’t learned in today’s day and age.

  2. Jeanne Medina 06/01/2011 at 7:26 am

    I’m going to stand in the minority here. The statement she made was in poor taste. If she’d said it to the teacher’s face, she should have been disciplined for insubordination. But she didn’t say it to her face. She said it to a group of “friends”. Yes, it’s out there, and someone took it upon themselves to share that rude comment with school officials. Perhaps they were concerned about how strong her feelings appeared. Fine. The official at the school should have referred it to the school counselor who would then contact her parents, and delve into the situation. This was not a threat. She expressed a wish that could never even come true, in real life, because the person she wished would do it, was dead, and therefore incapable of executing the crime! As teenage death wishes go, this was pretty tame, IMO. I think the school handled this horribly. The suspension was wrong, she should have received counseling instead.She did learn her lesson though. Don’t trust your friends. Don’t trust your school. Don’t trust your country. But at least my Mom stood by me. Lucky girl.

  3. Amy 05/31/2011 at 10:34 pm

    What ever happened to freedom of speech?

  4. Kelli 05/31/2011 at 2:15 pm

    Carina I hear you that jumping straight to suspention might not have been the best approach, however, when I first heard this news and was asked my thoughts, my very first thought was how long was the suspenstion. Talking about private lives vs. public life is a mute point. With technology what it is nothing is private anymore and if you live your life with the idea that what you do in private is your own business then a lot of people are going to get hurt including yourself. The internet is a very public place and although you can try to put up safe guards about what gets in and touches you there is no way to safeguard how far our your ripples reach. My neice posted some photos of herself on her private account, to her “friends”. Once its out there you have no way of knowing who is going to do what with those images. Students today have it rough because this way of communication is all they know and yet they haven’t really been taught what it does, how it works and what it all means. I do believe this girl was blowing of steam of a bad day or a bad semester or whatever, but when you put it onto the internet rather than share it “privately” with a friend it’s going to get taken out of context and it’s going to have ripples. I do not believe the school taking it as a threat was over the top. Someone took it to the principal and the principal has a responsibility to keep the teachers save. If that teacher did somehow end up dead in a few weeks how guilty do you think that principal would feel having done nothing? Even having done something. . .

  5. Raquel 05/31/2011 at 2:07 pm

    I feel sorry for the girl for losing her friends. She’s young and as some have said, stupid. However, I think every threat needs to be taken seriously. The fact that the post was still out there and somehow the principal saw it and brought it in was lucky. What if this teacher had been hurt? No one knows the intention of an online post or ‘steam’. I hope she learns from this mistake and either gets off social networking sites entirely and engages in more face to face contact or learns a better way of releasing some anger. The written word is great therapy (private journal, not online)

  6. Ronda Devereaux 05/31/2011 at 12:46 pm

    I disagree with the Mom’s approach as well. I remember the first time I heard about someone losing their job because of an email that “got out”. The internet and social media is like email on steroids. Technology has changed all of our lives not just our kids.
    In April I posted about local Utah students that got suspended for facebook posts although the event did happen on school grounds-

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  8. Rachael 05/24/2011 at 8:36 am

    Overreaction or not, the reality is that saying stuff to your 500 friends on Facebook is not a private statement, but something that’s going to live online and beyond. And whether she likes it or not, will be her most googlable fact about her for a long while. Landing herself on CNN surely wasn’t intended – but the reality is, that it’s the result of her actions. That’s the whole point that I think kids don’t get

  9. Carina Wytiaz 05/24/2011 at 8:26 am

    I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only one who thinks this is a complete and total over-reaction. This isn’t bullying. This isn’t kid to kid. It wasn’t even a violent statement. Wishing someone was dead? Hello, you said that every day of your life from age 8 until 14.

  10. Adrian 05/23/2011 at 11:59 pm

    I agree 100%. Yes, kids are kids and they do dumb things sometimes, but they need to be more accountable for their actions. At my son’s school, two young boys, friends of his, killed themselves over stupid stuff like this (Rachael, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, it was all over the news).

    Yet, not a week after the 2nd boy had died, I found a group of kids on FB viciously attacking a 3rd boy they said had been bullying the kids who had died. Those hate-filled and thoughtless words could SO easily have resulted in a 3rd tragedy.

    So I did what I needed to do to protect the supposed bully. I stepped in. I told them a parent was watching, that the posts needed to be removed immediately, and that they needed to focus on honoring their friends and let the school deal appropriately with any bullying that may or may NOT have occurred. Then I copied the whole chat and sent it to the Principal to ask her to see that the boy in question received some support and/or counseling.

    I just don’t get it. I don’t know if it’s TV or what, but these kids seem to feel that there are NO limits whatsoever on what they are allowed to do or say to one another. This is a hard lesson, but they need to learn that you can’t just say any horrible or nasty thing they want to anyone they want to say it to. If it prevents even ONE more bully-cide, it is worth the price they have to pay.

  11. Barb @ getupandplay 05/23/2011 at 11:12 pm

    I didn’t watch the clip, but I think I understand the context. I do have compassion for her but it was a really poor choice in a very public arena. This was not her writing in her private journal. And I can see a similar situation happening in “our day”- what if you mentioned it to your friend and she told someone? Or a teacher overheard you in the hall? It doesn’t matter her intention, it crosses a line. The only way to ensure that our schools are safe is to take every violent comment like this seriously because sometimes they are serious.

  12. Carina Wytiaz 05/23/2011 at 10:24 pm

    But at the same time, at what point are we regulating what we say in our private lives? While students have no expectations of privacy while at school, I don’t think a suspension over a Facebook post that was made at home on her own time should be the first response. Kids that age are stupid. They say stupid things. And saying they wish someone had killed their teacher is not a threat, it’s steam.

  13. Jenny Wiebe 05/23/2011 at 9:24 pm

    I agree with you completely, Rachael. I’m not sure, but somehow appearing on national television seems to me more detrimental than the initial suspension. Perhaps if she had just accepted the consequence and apologized, then she wouldn’t have so much to feel sad about. Kids (and dare I say adults as well) do need to understand the consequences of the things that they say online.

  14. Lori 05/23/2011 at 7:20 pm

    As a teacher, I completely agree. It may seem extreme to discipline a student over online behavior, but it must be done. Unfortunately, kids in this generation are not used to facing consequences. The focus has turned more toward keeping our kids happy. And while teenagers do not always think their decision through…facing the consequences WILL help them LEARN to think things through.

    • stephanie peterson 05/24/2011 at 10:04 am

      Lori, you hit it on the head. Our kids our so entitled they feel they deserve everything and can get away with everything. Do we as parents enable them to be entitled by trying to make them happy? It is a fast paced world…maybe a little to fast if we as parents are not checked in or present with what our kids are doing or saying on or off line. Adrian, kudos to you for stepping in!