Wednesday, April 12, 2006

MyPoliceState

Apparently some high school students back east have been suspended for content on their MySpace pages:
Seven Parsippany High School students will serve 5-day suspensions starting next Monday for setting up two MySpace.com accounts filled with photos and "vulgarities" about classmates and teachers, Interim Superintendent James Dwyer said today.
The students used cell phone cameras to photograph classmates and other school employees without their permission, Dwyer said. He did not say how many photos were posted.
A teacher surfing the Internet stumbled across one of the MySpace sites two weeks ago, Dwyer said, prompting an investigation by high school principal Anthony Sciaino and the school's police resource officer.
All seven students -- two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors -- admitted to their involvement last week and both sites have been pulled from the Internet, Dwyer said. The group included both boys and girls, he said.

This is what I like to call "a crock of shit." As deplorable as the students' behavior may be, the school's reaction doesn't sit well with me.

I am troubled that this whole incident started with a teacher browsing student profiles. See, I'm a high school teacher too, and yes, I have MySpyed my students. I've only done this once, and it yielded too much information. Yes, I was shocked at what I saw my students saying and professing to have done or to intend to do. However, a quick reflection on my own high school years, ending a scant seven years back, revealed that yes, my own high school experience was very similar to what I saw students discussing. Does that mean teenage debauchery is "okay?" Not really, but I'm not too concerned about it either.

Reflecting back on my own high school experience, I remember an intense frustration at life in general, and I think this had a lot to do with the lot of teenagers within society as a whole. At the ages of 14-19, people are, essentially, the pariahs of society. No longer valued or cultivated as children, not yet accepted as adults, teenagers are forced into an ill-fitting situation of perpetuated restrictions and insufficient responsibility(and freedom). What results is a violent and fumbling transition towards adulthood that often manifests in some very ugly ways. But do I fault the teens? No. I fault society for not sufficiently incorporating the teens.

When I was looking at my students' MySpace profiles, I felt that I was doing something wrong. It felt dirty. I felt I was invading their privacy. I thought this odd, since what I was looking at was by nature public. However, therein lies the rub. MySpace treads this odd space between public and private. Yes, it's publicly accessable, but it's only intended to be viewed by friends and/or folks of a similar peer group. Do I want teens, especially my own students browsing my MySpace page? No, and I in fact take pains to make sure I am un-locatable to them. I imagine and know my students' attitudes regarding their own pages and authority figures - such as myself - are similar. Where am I going with this? See below...

The school's main contention is that students were posting images of classmates and teachers "without their permission." I can see this being something of an issue if this were done in a truely public space, i.e. via flyers posted throughout town. However, posting these images in MySpace is arguably non-public. Whatever the case, the behavior in question was undoubtedly not intended to be public to school staff and administration, but intended for the students' peers. The posting of these images and comments is akin to a conversation between students off campus, after school. It's the late night session of BSing and shit-talking over coffee and a shared basket of chicken strips at the local diner. Now let me tell you, if I'd been suspended for some of the things I said or did late on a Friday or Saturday night amongst friends in a (fairly) private place, I'd have been livid.

In the end, I don't think what the students in question did was "okay." I think it's disrespectful and juvenile. But I also think that because it was done in quasi-private, the school doesn't really have any business in the matter. I am troubled that this and other schools are setting up a precedent for monitoring MySpace because they are pushing in and invading a teen space, a refuge. This is not okay. See below...

Imagine that you are at your local Denny's with your friends. It's late on a Saturday night, you are 17, and your basket of chilli cheese fries has just arrived. Now imagine that you and your friends are discussing girls, boys, that creepy substitute with a thermos of "coffee," and so forth. Now imagine that the entire time, the school's vice principal is standing over the table, watching and listening. Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it? Well that's what's starting to happen with MySpace.

I wouldn't be coming to the defense of MySpace and teens so heavily if I didn't see a need for the social behavior that teens do now engage in on MySpace and the like. Teen's entire life experience cannot be monitored and policed. Teens need a certain degree of freedom and privacy in order to be able to engage in the behaviors that will move them towards a well developed adulthood. They need time and space for social exploration. And they need all of this without monitoring by authority figures. MySpace is simply a location where teens are now choosing to perform these behaviors. That it is publically accessable doesn't mean that is should always be accessed. The intrusion of authority figures into this space is only an extension of the awkward, unnatural limbic situation that teens are attempting to escape in the first place, and it is a startling trend.

4 Comments:

At 5:46 PM, Blogger brenda said...

Oh dear, so many things.

First off, when I read the news brief you included, I thought it was saying that the students put up false profiles of some people from their schools, which I think could be construed as a separate issue. Looking at it again, it's unclear how exactly those MySpaces worked...

Second, you say that MySpace content is only intended for peers or friends. But everyone should already know that MySpace profiles are just as easily viewed by pedophiles as they are by 12-year-olds. There is no separating. And remember, the whole site was created as a publicity tool for bands, meant to get the word out to whomever. Plus, I think an argument could be made that the teacher is technicially within that circle of "intendeds"--ie, here's someone who actually knew the people, in real life, who were being posted about--even if he/she was an unexpected member of those intended.

"Teen's entire life experience cannot be monitored and policed." And a teen's entire social life should not consist of MySpace. Let them go to Denny's late Friday night. Or a party.

That's a part of growing up, too, isn't it? Knowing how "public" someplace is. You know to look over the neighboring Denny's booth before making certain comments--which might be totally safe comments to make at a friend's house.

In fact, I've read a few news stories that've quoted from MySpace profiles of people (usually for recent deaths), when other information was not available. And besides that, MySpace is owned by a huge corporation--hello, big brother.

And then we have issues of defamation and libel, etc., that come up from publishing about other people in public or somewhat public forums.

I think it's honorable of you not to go snooping in MySpace. And I'm not sure it's the school's place to police MySpace. But I think that the students involved definitely had some lessons to learn--one way or another--and it so happens that the school decided to teach this one.

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger brenda said...

Oh yeah, and as far as your anonymity goes: I meant to tell you that a Google of your name and the state you live in the other day brought this blog up to the top ;)

Been meaning to let ya know... (oh, and my name is "brendalynn")

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger Zac said...

It's also the fourth hit down when you google the full name in quotations. I don't know why, but my old tape trader network page (about 5 years old) is the first hit.

Anyway, your point about teens learning how to behave in public, and in various publics, is very well taken, especially with the extension of the Denny's analogy...

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger Ryan said...

interesting stuff you two, and some keen insight. the thought of defamation of character crossed my mind upon reading your posts, but it's a heated topic of debate concerning the internet with few legal rulings in the us to really spell things out. and the whole desire for liability issues online neatly contradicts the push for increased anonomity on the web so we can avoid advertisers, download movies, protect our data, etc.

i read an article somewhere a while ago about how prospective employers will increasingly do some simple internet searches on employees under consideration, how random posts or comments could be misconstrued and translated to mean anything. while i've got nothing much to hide, i've since tried to limit how much of my identity i put online, last name, etc, but it's proven rather impossible. i removed such profile information nearly a year ago, and it's still returned upon a google searches. kinda frustrating and creepy.

 

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