Facing up to what’s said online

(Last Updated On: March 4, 2014)

Recently Diocesan School for Girls suspended a number of Year 10 students for making derogatory comments on social networking site Facebook. How would you deal with a situation like this? Here’s what some INTERFACEreaders had to say on the matter.

“I think it was good for the school to make a stand, although the type of stand they should make could be argued. It was a private issue with Facebook but the situation identified teachers at school and obviously this became a public thing, so the school needed to do something. These days we encourage our students to work from home on stuff to do with school. I see the line between school and home blurring a lot more and this is what makes it hard in this situation. I think the best option in this case would have been for the school to make contact firstly with parents and then for a joint disciplinary option to be made.

I recently held a parents meeting to discuss ePortfolios and Net safety and created a page of information for them:

Jamin Lietze, Bethlehem College

“The article says ‘Should the school be snooping?’ but it’s clear that the school wasn’t doing that at all. The matter was brought to its attention by a third party. If they hadn’t divulged this information to the school, nothing would have happened. They’re the only one in this scenario who’s breaking any laws (if at all) by divulging supposedly ‘private’ information … and good on them too for being brave enough to do it. I would do the same if I discovered that my son/daughter was being targeted by evil tongues at school, whether it involved computers or letters or telephones.

In my view, the issue is no different from a parent bringing to the school’s attention a private letter they had intercepted where a student or staff member was maligned. The letter might have once been private, but once the issue is out in the open and part of the public domain (which is MUCH more likely to happen with electronic communications, especially group ones), whether this happened in a legally correct manner or not, it needs to be dealt with. The school did the right thing, they didn’t break any privacy laws, they didn’t snoop, they acted on an unpleasant situation that related to their staff and students, and tried to clean it up.”

Francesco van Eerd, Rongotai College

“My feelings on this are that we – schools, parents, and of course, students – need to have a broad discussion about our interactions on the Internet because of the following issues:

1. Your past will haunt you – the cringe factor of your youth will be multiplied a thousand fold via the Internet. What you do today can affect you 30 years from now;

2. Rules for engaging on the Internet – do not touch it if drunk, upset or angry!

3. People change – I’m not the same person that I was as an 18-year-old, yet my actions/feelings could be held against me (such as loss of job promotion);

4. The Internet can be used in a positive way – get students to design/develop a promotional video about the school (with the BOT’s blessing, of course!), and post on YouTube.”

Nathan Kerr, Howick College

“The issue is: does the school have the right to stand down girls for comments made on Facebook in their own time, on their own computers, in what is supposedly a private forum? In my humble opinion, yes it does have the right to stand the students down. The Facebook chatting may have been done outside of school but schools often have to deal with issues that have started outside of it. Teachers are often dealing with the fallout of what happened on the weekend. This issue has very little to do with technology.

In regards to it being a private forum, it obviously was not so private otherwise there would be no problem. Imagine if you will, students carrying on a verbal conversation, slagging off a teacher, or student. A teacher happens to walk by and overhear the private conversation. What would happen? I would think exactly the same thing that happened to the girls communicating over the Internet. They need to realise that conversations held online via a keyboard are less private than verbal conversations. There is a record of that conversation that can be seen by anyone.”

Ivan Munkedal, Te Puke High School

We also asked a group of Year 12 journalism students at Mt Maunganui College to tell us what they thought:

“I can see both sides to this case. I don’t believe that the school should be snooping around their students’ private lives via their Internet blogs. But, on the other hand, if a student or teacher has been abused, then I believe that the school has a right to take action in punishing people who over-stepped the line.”

“Even though what they were doing was wrong, I don’t believe they should have been punished this hard.”

“I think it’s ridiculous that a teacher would take offence to something said in a student’s private life. Teachers judge students all the time but obviously we cannot do the same. They shouldn’t have been snooping around anyway.”

“I think it’s odd that the teachers at this school check up on what the students are saying to their peers in their own time. After all, what they say and do in their own time is their business. I wonder if the teachers would have been as harsh on the girls if they were caught saying these things to one another in person instead of over the Internet. Is there a difference? Of course, anyone can read comments on the Internet. I think we could learn a lesson from this. Be careful what you write online as you never know who will be reading it and how it could affect this person and yourself.”

“I feel that suspension was not the right way to go but the girls did need to have consequences for their actions. This is an issue for not only this school but also for all schools as they try to figure out how to go about dealing with affairs that occur online.”


Andre Kneepkens   Posted: 13/07/2009 7:17 PM

I think this whole area is a legal minefield which we are only just beginning to explore. A verbal comment and a written note on paper are very different beasts to blogs, social websites and tweets. I predict in the coming years lawyers will become rich, employement contracts will be reshaped and individuals will become polarised as students and staff alike at schools across the country are called to account for comments posted online.
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Categories: Article, Issue 17