Think before you post
Last week, concerns about weapons and violence shared via social media ignited concerns in two Rhode Island school communities. A parent at Burrillville High School contacted school administrators early Wednesday to report a post suggesting a student might bring a firearm to school. Following protocol, the building was put on lockdown. The student was located, unarmed, on a school bus, and arraigned on a charge of disorderly conduct.
At Toll Gate High School, a mother took to Facebook to discuss graphic text message threats she alleges her child received in the fall from another student at the school. The mother wrote that her family’s fears were exacerbated when her daughter received another text, which included a photo of the alleged bully posing with a gun.
The situation in Warwick became more complicated when a former elected official, a relative of the student alleged to be sending the threats, went public, saying the incident was “exaggerated and fabricated” and that the photo, which he said was not recent, was taken when the student was handling an unloaded gun that was typically kept in a locked box. The superintendent and the School Department issued statements saying the incident was handled properly when it occurred, but that was not enough to put the minds of community members at ease. Those commenting on Facebook demanded more action from the school and successfully launched an effort to involve the news media.
The student in the Burrillville case wasn’t named in media reports. The students at Toll Gate were not named either, but who they are could be inferred because the adult relatives of both students went public.
Media, either social or print, provides tools that point people to a wealth of information; it can even save lives. But images, words and, most importantly, facts can be misrepresented when emotions run high – and comment sections are not places where civil discussions or realistic problem solving typically take place. Student safety must be taken seriously, but it’s also important that students who are being disciplined aren’t tried in the court of Facebook.
In addition, minor-aged students should be well educated on what not to share on social media. Anything posted on the Internet, regardless of whether it was shared on a private or public account, is permanent in some way and could be regretted later if found by the wrong person. As demonstrated by these two cases, it appears that lesson hasn’t quite set in. Minors and example-setting adults alike can all stand to benefit from thinking before they post.