By Tom Gayda
I am a First Amendment fighter. I have long stood by supporting people’s rights to say and do what they want. But then came social media.
There is a fine line between what is right and what is wrong sometimes. Sadly, with the never-ending onslaught of posts, likes and tweets, the notion of acting responsibly has at times taken a backseat.
It isn’t my intent to curtail one’s First Amendment rights. However, I think we must all do a better job showing future adults that not everything in life is post-worthy and what one posts can follow a person for life.
There are responsibilities that come with one’s rights. And while one can basically say anything he or she wants on social media, that isn’t always the smartest thing to do. I warn my own students to think about the image they are projecting by their social media use. Dropping “f-bombs” like nothing might make one hip with their social circle, however others who see such warfare might think twice about interacting with the offender.
I also ask my students to tell me how it’s going to be when their kids are old enough to take advantage of the latest Internet craze and can see everything their mom or dad posted when they were teenagers. Ouch! (Never mind the dancing!) Life went on for millions of years without people sharing with the world their every innermost secret. Somehow we can survive with fewer posts.
Schools patrolling their students Internet activities hardly seems like a good use of time, however it is important kids know there can be consequences to what they post, be it legally or not. Many folks tend to get extra courage behind the safety of their smartphone. We can support free speech and teach how to use it responsibly.
Times are changing and so do the ways we communicate. Think first, and remember, everything you say today will be out there forever.
Looking for stories that enable your students to make a significant difference?
Here are three possibilities for localization and expansion:
• Should schools monitor students’ social media sites
This article raises the issue whether software can or should be expected to determine if students’ postings can be considered cyberbullying. The article seems to raise the same concepts and approaches those who supported Internet filtering did, saying software could be so finely designed to judge why students meant. Cyberbullying is a serious issue facing schools, but numerous groups also argue attempts to limit it must have a constitutional basis. Background on this topic should be extensive.
• SR: the right to be nonpolitical
Should homework assignments involve students in political activities? A similar question might challenge giving students class credit to engage in essay writing for contests or other prizes. Do your schools have policies on these practices?
• Shools not inspiring student to participate in civic life, Stanford scholar says
The premise of this article is that students are not taught who to become engaged in society, that facts about democracy, citizenship and government are not enough. Active participation, the author urges, is the key. In your school, what is billed as civic involvement, and are the students given a real change to make a difference?
Two items of note to scholastic media and student expression so far this first full week of August, and the week is just starting. Both issues could be localized into solid stories no matter where your school is.
• I heart boobies: The 3rd circuit ruled en banc Aug. 5 that a PA school’s ban of “I heart boobies” bracelets was unconstitutional because such expression was about political or social issues and did not qualify as lewd speech.
The school had argued that the bracelets were “harmful and confusing” to middle school students, the Student Press Law Center reported. The SPLC also indicated the decision allowed schools to ban speech that is “plainly” lewd and cannot be seen has having a political or social message.
According to the Washington Post’s report, the school’s lawyer said the ruling leaves schools no guidance for interpretation about how to interpret a growing amount of double-entendres they say will cause disruption.
• Restrictive social media policy: The Lodi Unified, California, schools intend to enforce what students call a repressive social media policy requiring students in activities from athletics to clubs to sign before they can participate. The policy, according to a report from a Aug. 5 recordnet.com story, would allow school officials to punish students for social media posts made on or off school grounds, including retweets and likes that the school finds “inappropriate.”
The policy, recordnet.com reports, “The policy cracks down on threats towards other people and other bullying techniques. It allows schools to bench athletes or remove students from clubs if officials learn they have posted inappropriate, profane or sexual language on a social media site – or boasted or endorsed illegal or violent activity.”
The SPLC has called the policy “outlandishly illegal” and cites California laws to support student views.
The Lodi policy is explained more in this article from the Lodi News.
• Federal court strikes down ‘I (heart) boobies’ ban
•US Appeals court: PA school can’t ban ‘boobies’ bracelets because message isn’t lewd
•Appeals court says school can’t ban breast-cancer awareness bracelet
•Third circuit appeals court backs students in ‘Boobies’ bracelet case
• #dislike: Lodi Unified students protest social media policy aimed at bullying
• Students railing against social media contract implemented by school district
* California students pro test social media contract banning ‘inappropriate’ posts
• Lodi Unified district social contract
Social media can be daunting. Know how journalism standards, legal and ethical principles apply. #25HZLWD http://jeasprc.org/tweet23-social-media-use-requires-legal-ethical-guides
Social media are merely other tools in the arsenal of journalism. Social media offer student journalists much in the way of new approaches and coverage possibilities, but like all “new” communication tools of the past they also bring fear and unease. It is imperative that schools and their student media understand and rely on the “legacy” standards of professional journalism, legal and ethical. It is undeniable that new legal and ethical standards will develop, building on the old. Until they do, we can rely on what exists for essential guidance.
More and more scholastic journalism programs rush to join the social media landscape, adding Twitter, Facebook and all types of other quick and digital ways to reach audiences with their coverage.
Some have even gone so far to call media prepared by non-journalists the fifth estate, replacing the fourth estate (to be henceforth called legacy media).
One has to wonder, though, whether the fourth and fifth estates will be that different, indeed, whether they should be that different.
The point, we must argue, is to keep and embellish the basics, the good, from the legacy media and surround it and enhance it with the multimedia approaches of the fifth estate.
In fact, we must also build our programs so they can embrace change and expand as new media emerges.
• Social Media Toolbox
• Social Media, the classroom and the First Amendment
• JEA online ethical guidelines
Marina Hendricks, a member of JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission, has developed a “Social Media Toolbox” for use by student journalists and their advisers.
The toolbox, available at hendricksproject.wordpress.com, features 16 lessons on social media plus related resources. The lessons can be used as a unit or individually, depending on the needs of students, advisers and school publication programs.
As a unit, the lessons are designed to help student journalists and their advisers navigate the transition into using social media as part of their publication programs. The unit starts with ethical decision-making to help guide students through the process. It continues with exploration of reasons for using social media, consideration of how social media tools are employed by journalists, and evaluation of the school community’s use of social media through a survey.
Other lessons focus on legal issues, social media policies and roles, cyberbullying, reporting using social media, and tutorials for implementing popular tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The unit concludes by challenging students to design an educational program on social media for the school community.
This is a fantastic educational opportunity for students and teachers to determine the impact of social media in a scholastic journalism setting and for administrators and communities to see how they can support and enhance a journalistically strong – free and responsible – social media program.
About the author: Marina is senior manager of communications for the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Va. In a previous life, she ran a program for teen journalists sponsored by The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She also served as an adjunct faculty member for the University of Charleston, teaching an introductory journalism course. She completed the “Social Media Toolbox” as the final project for her master of arts in journalism education at Kent State University, under the supervision of Candace Perkins Bowen, John Bowen and Mark Goodman.