Should Student Tweets Be Revealed?

Here's a dilemma (or maybe not). 

Over at the Jezebel blog, they found that there were a number of teens who, after the reelection of President Obama, sent out very hateful and racist tweets.  Jezebel looked these teens up and where they went to school, checked their school's code of conduct, and then contacted their respective administrations.  In many cases, either the school code of conduct and/or student athletic code of conduct was violate.

Jezebel says:

We contacted their school's administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students' ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity. Or they could let them know that while the First Amendment protects their freedom of speech, it doesn't protect them from the consequences that might result from expressing their opinions. 

Additionally, several of the teens use imagery of their high schools' sports teams on their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. If nothing else, it's reasonable to alert administrators to the behavior of the students who are publicly representing their schools.

Jezebel then put up their names, their schools (some of them private), and some screen shots of their Tweets.  They also got back (surprisingly) a number of replies from schools saying the appropriate things about guiding their students on these issues.

It's a brave new world our children live in.  Luckily, mine are grown and the technology of today was not available until the latter part of their teen years.   Parents really have a lot to convey to their children about how words don't just hurt but can haunt people for a long time. 

It is one thing to express your feelings to friends verbally but boy, when a kid puts that out there via Facebook or Twitter, it goes out into the Internet ether and someone then forwards it, prints it, takes a screenshot - it's almost a forever thing. 

We were all young and young people like to test boundaries and say stupid or outrageous things.  But saying racist things or wishing the President to be killed is wrong and, in the case of the latter statement, illegal. 

Meanwhile over at Slate, Katy Waldman takes Jezebel to task for reasons many of you will agree with.

But a difference exists between raising readers’ consciousness and being a rat.  They also updated us, gleefully, on the status of the students’ twitter accounts: Which kids were embarrassed enough to delete them? Which ones offered half-assed excuses? Which ones doubled down on their racism?

Along with parents, educators are in a good position to teach tolerance and sensitivity—and, yes, to mete out discipline. But for a major media outlet to write a self-congratulatory, self-righteous post after playing the informant on a bunch of teenagers looks petty and vindictive, not to mention opportunistic.

But to take it a step further, and to potentially hurt these stupid kids’ chances at, say, getting into a decent college (where, by the way, they might learn things and become less stupid) or, say, securing a decent job by forever cementing their teenage horribleness into Google search—that’s not really doing anyone any good, is it?

I would agree.  Jezebel could have just done a story on this (and alerted the Secret Service to any direct threats to the President) but I'm not sure these young people deserved quite this beatdown.

DON'T GET ME WRONG - what they said was beyond the pale (and, that one of them credits his mother for saying it first, is troubling).  Maybe outing them will give them a lesson they never forget.  But if they lose opportunities because of it like internships or college admission, it's more likely to make them angry.  

I like to believe there is hope for everyone especially young people but public shaming doesn't seem like the way to get to better attitudes.

On the other hand, it does seem that today no one is ever ashamed of what they say or do (see Team Rape).  There's an excuse a minute and in the US, we love embarrassment followed by redemption.  

So is tough love the best way to that redemption? 


Po3 said…
Everybody said a lot of nasty things - the Obama side gloated and posted digs about the Romney side. The Romney side said crappy things about Obama.

It starts in the home.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by...
Anonymous said…
Having read a good number of these horrible racist tweets, I have to say that I have no issue with these kids getting in trouble. They posted publicly, they should suffer the consequences for their stupidity - there really is no anonymity on the internet. If someone had hacked their computer and found the racist stuff, then that would be another story. However, they made the choice to sound off publicly, thus any fallout is a direct result of their actions. Better to learn the lesson now than later.

Josh Hayes said…
I've drummed it into my kids that even things they regard as minor, off the cuff remarks, when made on line, ARE FOREVER. It's like standing up in public and shouting things out. This is one of the reasons for that. People forget that talking online is still talking, and that things you say to people have a real impact.

It's hard to stomach the "kick 'em while they're down" attitude one sees in the jezebel followup article, but I think that public shaming may well be of some use here. Maybe it'll make someone think twice before blurting out racist stupidity in the future.
Anonymous said…
They made the comments - so yes -they should be held accountable.

I can't believe how clueless kids still are about social media. There are pictures posted all over Facebook with our high school's Senior Halloween party - the keg in full view with kids holding red beer cups visibly drunk.

Idiocy that is going to result in some serious consequences at some point. Whether that be lost job opportunities, lost scholarships/acceptance to choice schools or criminal charges, better for kids to learn that while they are younger.

Erin from Bagley said…
My read of the article is that the author is taking the school administration to task as much as the students. Kids learn from those around them.

Many of the tweets were beyond the pale. I hope these kids do have consequences and are educated on racism. Hate speech should not be tolerated.
Anonymous said…
But what is pathetic about a few of the kids' responses is the good ol' "my dog ate my homework" of "OMG, someone hacked my twitter account!" As if...

Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
n.seattleparent said…
As someone who demographers classify as a mixed race person, I think racism is outdated and should be put down.

That said,
I worry that Jezebel managed to smear both the 1st amendment and 4th amendment here. Wow.
The kids, like adults, have the right to say / write whatever stupid thing they want to say. That's freedom of speech and press. So long as it's not libel or slander, it's fair game. Being underage, legally they tend to enjoy an extra level of immunity to those charges until age 18 anyway.
yes--- The kids ought to know better - of course. They ALSO, IMO, ought to know to use avatars/screennames/handles when online and not identify anything personal about themselves whatsoever until past college or later, and any parent not enforcing this is doing their child a disservice. (But likewise the adults running our country should know better than to enter any wars again. And yet, here we are with 3 recent wars and one still brewing. ) This isn't utopia. No one's perfect. So; some kids are racist. This isn't NEWS by a long shot, and not even here in the PC NW, trust me.
Secondly, where does Jez get off putting itself in the role of arbitor of other people's, let alone kids', privacy? Outing tweets is just too close to 'unreasonable search and seizure' for me. IMO these foolish kids are not public figures, they should enjoy normal privacy of 'persons, papers, and effects'. It's not as if they were violating Romney or Obama's 15th amendment rights.

p.s. OY Vey! Did you really use the term 'beyond the pale' in an article about racism?
Charlie Mas said…
Now, now, n.seattleparent, it surely isn't a constitutional issue. The Bill of Rights is not put at risk because Jezebel is not a government entity.

People are free to make whatever statements they like in the public square (with notable exceptions such as inciting violence, calling "Fire" in a crowded theater, etc.), but that freedom does not include a protection against response to their statements. Public speech is free, but it is not free of consequences.

That's our lesson for today, boys and girls.

We all live with it here. If any of these statements were made orally rather than electronically, wouldn't the student be subject to response from anyone within earshot? Wouldn't anyone who heard the statements actually have a moral duty to respond? When the statements are made electronically (not to get all McLuhan on you) it is an extension of the students' mouths and everyone online (including Jezebel) is within earshot.

There is an inherent double-standard when someone says "X", there is a response that "X is bad", and the original speaker responds "I'm allowed to say anything I want!" If that's the case, then the respondent is also afforded the same right, including the right to say "X is bad". Or do only SOME people have a right to say whatever they want?

I do want to add that while I am amused by the unintentional irony of someone using the expression "beyond the pale" when calling for education on racism, I would let it slide. My heritage is from "beyond" the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia. With a name like "Erin", I have to wonder if Erin from Bagley's family is not also from beyond the Pale in Ireland.
n.SeattleParent said…
to be clear: I didn't say the Bill Of Rights was at risk, - just that the 1st and 4th were being smeared. Specifically, Jezebel being a rat and digging into nitpick details, of kids, is what offends me. I think earshot is earshot, and in regards to freedom of speech, true speech, you're spot on.
But equating 'earshot' with 'posting online on your personal twit account' isn't apples to oranges. (Besides, if we say Jez was in earshot, then what they did was very much like illegally recording a conversation to use as evidence). Many FB & twitter users presume the only people listening are the ones they've approved as followers/friends (depending on your settings, that can be true). It's not entirely unreasonable, considering you get to approve who follows you and who doesn't.
(Maybe rather than earshot, twit posts are more analogous to perhaps a private radio station than a voice in a room: to hear it, you have to go to the work to tune in to that particular frequency AND be in range. Much like CB radio. Which is maybe why Jezebel's actions seem so very much like eavesdropping to me...)
I agree with your assessment of the first amendment rights of speech - and I'm a firm believer in interpreting the rights so that your "right to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose", as has been said before. "X is bad." "No it's not." "Maybe it is, under these circumstances." Yes, yes, & yes ! These are all good things - THIS is the ideal the founders claimed to be after: liberty and choice, for their own sakes. Disagreement makes for a stronger nation.
But on that note: I somewhat disagree with those who state "There's no anonymity allowed online" and disagree too with claiming one's mouth and one's online postings are the same. I think one's writings, including those online, constitute a certain grey area of "persons, papers & effects" that the 4th amendment could not have foreseen but to which it ought to apply. Some online writing is copyright protected, after all, right?
And I certainly don't think the rights in the constitution are limited to protection from 'government entities' only. - we should all enjoy -and protect- those rights amongst one another, too. By, of, for the people, after all.
Discretion, while not required by law, ought to be common practice, even by an online org like Jez. Ex: even though I can look up your 4 municipal citations, your voting record, your home address, your astrological sign and birthday, your family's names, and what your middle initial stands for, --and all in about 90 seconds thanks to the internet-- it's not reasonable (socially, ethically, -you decide) for me to go about posting that info publicly. Moreso if you were a child - some would argue that would be even potentially dangerous to do to a child.
So - I think Jezebel overstepped the socially/ethically ok line. I think tough love wasn't the way to go. I also think twitter and FB should default to a very private setting. I believe kids get forgotten too often when it comes to basic human rights and full citizen rights (and thus I'm a member of various Youth Vote initiatives). I think these kids deserved a slap on the wrist or other punishment, but from their folks - not anyone else. I happen to think the 1st and 4th amendment have a dangerous overlap now with internet and other publishing mediums. And I wish privacy were truly a protected right in this nation, not (seemingly) just in regards to select evidence collection. i.e. In answer to the title of this piece: No, student tweets shouldn't be revealed.

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