This is not the answer to cyberbullying

Over at CNN, Francey Hakes opines:

Schools should also monitor cyberbehavior by students. There are good software tools that monitor cyberactivity in real time and flag threats based on keyword libraries that are specific to threatening, bullying, suicidal, or violent language. Every school should have this kind of sophisticated monitoring to capture such behavior.

No, this is not the answer to cyberbullying. America is not a police state. Whether educators like it or not, students have Constitutionally-protected speech and privacy rights. Every individual in the United States, no matter how young, has essential human rights and liberties that are rooted in self-autonomy, privacy, and freedom from invasive searching, tracking, and monitoring by the government.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t walk around with a tin foil hat, but the idea of public schools actively monitoring the online speech and behaviors of youth with the intent of catching them doing something bad sends chills up my spine. This is just another classic example of fear run amok…

9 Responses to “This is not the answer to cyberbullying”

  1. Scott-

    I agree with you completely.

    That said, the NSA is doing exactly what you’re talking about with the general public- and if that’s happening on a national scale with (it seems) impunity, why would we expect schools to not want access to the same sort of tools the federal government is using.

    Maybe it’s time to start teaching about strong crypto and good online habits as part of digital citizenship?

    • Hopefully some stronger checks and balances on the power of our federal and state governments will help obviate some of the need for strong crypto. But I’m all in favor of teaching good online habits!

  2. Totally agree, Scott. How about teaching kids about positive behaviors, working with them to show them good examples, model that behavior, etc. We spend a lot of time talking about empathy in a digital world- how it’s easy to feel like you’re anonymous behind a screen, but remembering that there are real people behind their screens, too. I’m tired of “let’s catch them doing something wrong” instead of “let’s help them learn to do things right.”

    My students are ages 8-10. These conversations are crucial to help them think ahead. Right now, most of them are in pretty protected environments (e.g., class blogs moderated by me). As they get older and spend more time independently in social media, I want them to remember all the things we did and discussed together.

  3. I agree (of course). But I think we also need to be careful to distinguish between police-state tactics and going to the opposite extreme of washing our hands of it. For example, this weekend I stumbled across a student from my school who had posted some “warning sign” type posts to Twitter. I shared those posts with administration/counseling so that they could have a discussion with this student.

    Did I actively seek to discover this? No, although it came up because I searched on our school name as I do occasionally to retweet pics and other (positive) things. So if an educator finds something like this, I think it’s imperative that we still seek to help the student as opposed to being so concerned about their privacy that we just let it slide.

    I know that can be a slippery slope, but I think it’s a slope we have to traverse if we want to both protect student privacy and protect student health and well-being.

    • I think you have it right, Karl. There’s a big difference between actively surveilling students and dealing with issues as they arise and we learn of them (however that may occur). We’ve been doing the latter for decades and that’s appropriate.

      On occasion, as mandatory child reporters, sometimes we’ll even have a legal obligation to report / deal with certain situations that we discover. But that doesn’t mean we have to / should cast our nets 24-7 just to see what we may catch…

  4. I really like the topics brought up in the comments. Also the post itself got me thinking. I agree the constitutionally citizens are “protected” against spying (NSA aside) but do students count as citizens? I don’t ask to disagree I am more asking seriously to better understand. I know it may sound like a stupid question but I have yet to hear of a case where a child uses the constitution to gain privacy from his or her parents. When it comes to raising children can the constitution really be used to protect against taking away their privacy? I am just not sure.

    But regardless I completely agree that this won’t work. I like what Michelle said about where the focus is. It shouldn’t be about catching them but rather creating a world where they don’t want to do it. If we simply put energy in trying to stop them, they’ll just find another way. I remember with my generation it wasn’t cyberbullying as much as it was multiplayer games over the LAN and they never stopped us. Kids just get more excited when it becomes more difficult, they also gain no better understanding of the morality when the focus is solely on prevention rather than education.

    And then Karl I like that you brought up that this is not black and white. I remember at my school we used Facebook to intercede in a fight before it actually happened (you’d think kids would figure out that if they post the time and location it will be found out by the teachers). But yes it is a slippery slope and where is the line? Is there a line? How do we navigate the digital age in education? There is too little focus on understanding it and too much focus on controlling it. I dislike Ed departments blocking facebook and youtube, that just directs people to use their phones.

    It’d be interesting if we stopped treating online behavior as deviant and started truly trying to incorporate it into education.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jeremy. Children do indeed count as citizens and have Constitutional rights just like adults. Sometimes those have been modified by courts given the particular nature of being a minor. Note that the Constitution protects kids against the government (i.e., school), not their own parents, so that’s a critical distinction in this case.

  5. No this is not the answer but I think there’s a germ of a good idea there. I teach K-4 computers and we just last year brought Google Drive into our classrooms. As a teacher, I’m tasked with teaching Internet safety to my students which is increasingly difficult to do as I need to explain sites like Twitter and Facebook without actually using them with the students.

    I’m perplexed as to why Google has not incorporated Google+ into it’s apps for education program. It seems to me like the perfect solution to my problem. Students get to experience social media in a monitored and controlled environment. Any mistakes they make would be private and (in theory) not permanent the way they are outside of a school setting. It would let us identify patterns of behavior that need to be addressed before they get out of control and cause harm to students who haven’t learned the consequences of social media misbehavior.

    I don’t think we should be spying on our students outside of the classroom but if we have the ability to extend the classroom outside of the school’s physical space, I think we should take advantage of the tools we have at our disposal.

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