A Maryland high school became embroiled in a Twitter dispute last week that should never have been an issue in the first place, and the reaction by the adults in the room was about as wrong as it could be. Let us explain.
Donna Redmond Jones is a first year principal at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Jones is a Twitter user – that’s a good thing. She recently began following students from her school on Twitter who had first followed her. That’s also a good thing – as principal she is charged with keeping up with what is going on in her community. Twitter is a great place to do that.
The reaction from the student community, as laid out in the student newspaper The Tattler, and what ensued, was far from predictable. It seems that student leaders at The Tattler view her Twitter presence as an invasion of their privacy, and in the editorial the writer quoted an unspoken rule, that “students can follow teachers, but teachers shouldn’t reciprocate the follow”. That’s not a rule, and it’s not right in our opinion. The editorial went on:
“…the new principal has begun following students, and in the process has caused discomfort among many who feel that this is an invasion of privacy. Many students responded by blocking her from seeing their tweets. This presents an ethical dilemma: is it appropriate for a teacher or school employee to follow a student’s personal Twitter account?”
The students who blocked her are well within their rights, although blocking someone from your public Twitter account in no way prevents them from seeing your tweets.
Are students on solid ground suggesting that Principal Jones should not be following them? There is a new social media policy on place at the school that states “Do not use personal email accounts, social media networking sites, or other electronic communications to communicate or become ‘friends’ with students” but in our view that is not what is going on here.
Jones’ Twitter account is not strictly a personal account – her Twitter handle is @BCCprin. Following a public account is not “communicating or becoming friends” unless she was sending private messages to students, and there is no indication that was happening here.
Principal Jones chose to respond in The Tattler, and to our surprise agreed to stop the practice of following students.
“What was meant to applaud students’ efforts and forge stronger relationships with them has instead rattled a few. Any distress caused was unintended… Reciprocal following has been reversed and will be limited to student leadership and organizations.”
Did the students win here? We don’t think so, and this whole episode sends the wrong message.
If students want privacy on Twitter, they can elect to set their accounts to private and hope for the best. Just because the principal, or a college admissions officer or future employer doesn’t follow you, that in no way ensures that your tweets won’t be seen, and judgment will be passed on the content and intent of those tweets. Just having a public Twitter account, or possibly even a private one, means that your tweets could be seen by thousands. You have given up the right to say, “Don’t look at this; it’s private”.
Principal Jones missed out on a good opportunity here to advance digital citizenship in her school.
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