Facebook: potential problems in the classroom

August 18, 2009

Recently, we had a small problem with a student who vented her anger on her facebook page about a problem that happened in the Drum Corps (Marching Band).  Essentially, the student went on a “rant” about a decision that was made at the staff level and proceeded to use profanity as the student verbally attacked both staff and students.

Naturally, all of her “friends” on facebook were notified of the rant when she posted it and proceeded to comment on it creating quite a vitrual melee!

In these days of digital communication, it can be difficult to manage a situation such as this, and points to the urgency for some type of protocol for dealing with this type of discipline issue when it creeps into the school setting.  In this case, the incident happened over the Summer break, and the final resolution was an ultimatum for the student to take down the offensive post and delete all of the comments or face a conference with the school principal to decide on further action.

While removing a post and comments cannot guarantee that the damage will be contained, it is a logical first step.  There must be close monitoring of the situation in case someone else captures the information and makes it available again in an effort to “stir the pot”.

When dealing with the new ways students communicate, it is incumbent on all educators to teach students that the same rules of written and spoken communication apply to digital communication.

In light of this situation, here are a few general guidelines to help in dealing with digital discipline problems:

1. Communicate to students that Facebook and MySpace are NOT digital versions of a diary- there are no locks or secret places to hide potentially damaging and private information.

2. Teach students that the rules for civility and etiquette that apply to face to face and other written and spoken communication apply to their digital counterparts.

3. Institute a policy that discourages and sets consequences for derogatory references to the school or school organization and/or members of the school or organization.  It may be difficult to balance this with their first amendment rights, so be careful and always check with administration on legal matters.

We are entering an exciting and challenging time as digital communication evolves and becomes part of our everyday lives.  It is important that we enter this new era carefully and thoughtfully so that the full potential of all of the incredible technologies can be realized.

If any of you have a similar situation or have comments or suggestions about how to manage digital communication, please share your comments!