Reactions and Overreactions

As usual, it seems many of the adults entrusted to care for and educate our children and youth are hopelessly behind when it comes to the technological aspects, resorting to pre-digital, pre-social network and frankly bizarro-world Chicken Little type reactions in order to deal with the nuances of social media behaviours and activities.

First off, there’s the story of Indiana high school student Austin Carroll who used a profanity in a tweet posted to his Twitter account. His personal Twitter account. Now, there is some confusion as to whether he tweeted it at school or at home, an uncertainty that makes it even less excusable that the school expelled him. Yes, expelled. Not suspended, expelled. Just three months before he was due to graduate (this story broke at the end of March).

The confusion here, incidentally, was caused by the fact that if a student logs into their account at the school itself, the school tracks all the tweets on that account. So a tweet from home would still register at the school’s system. This seems to be eminently fixable. IP number, anyone?

But either way, a student expelled for using the f-bomb (and in a fairly creative way, at that) in 2012 seems incredible excessive. A poll on Mashable returned nearly 75% of readers outright disagreeing with the school’s reaction, with another 15% voting for suspension and only 2.5% fully behind the school’s actions.

The heavy-handedness even led to police involvement when there were fears that students were going to protest Carroll’s expulsion. It also led to much handwringing over the issue of free speech, with First Amendment Center scholar David Hudson opining that the school’s actions were “an incredible overreach and overreaction that arguably raises not only First Amendment but Fourth Amendment issues.” (The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.) The school disagreed. The IT director for the school district tweeted this response: “Freedom of speech is our right, but it doesn’t (always) make it appropriate. Think before you type people. #austincarroll.”It’s tempting to take a school employee to task for the missing comma in that last clause, but we’ll let that pass for now.

I do think it’s fair to say we could argue back and forth about the free speech aspects, but at the end of the day, I think a clear majority (75% on Mashable‘s poll) would at least agree this very local controversy which briefly went national could have been easily avoided by the, um, old school method of having the main parties sit down and talk about it first. The phrase “a learning opportunity” springs to mind.

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