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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Cyberbullying or Institutional Overreaction?
October 31, 2010 - 6:05pm

A reader alerted me to this article in the New Haven Register because of its pertinence to the continuing discussion on this forum about holding teens accountable for irresponsible or bullying behavior.

The story purports to be about cyberbullying: six students at Choate Rosemary Hall shared a Facebook diary in which they posted decidedly nasty comments about people they disliked. According to the article, “The writers thought their Facebook posts would remain private exchanges between themselves, but in the online world, nothing stays private for long. The posts eventually made their way around campus and to the Register.” Two of the students have been expelled, and the other four have been suspended. The school has blocked Facebook access from its computers.

Throughout the article, the girls’ actions are referred to as “bullying.” I’ve read the article several times, and I’m still stumped by this categorization. Mean and nasty, definitely. Immature, sure.

But they weren’t posting on a public forum. They were having what they believed was a private conversation. The statement that “the posts eventually made their way around campus and to the Register” obscures more than it communicates. Obviously, someone — either one of the diary posters or a hacker — made the entries public.

Are the non-leaking posters responsible for this? Or are they victims of someone else’s decision to circulate the evidence of a private interaction?

Granted, as my grandmother used to warn me, you should never say anything you wouldn’t want to see printed in the newspaper. But how many of us actually live up to that? When we’re alone with friends, or think we are, don’t we tend to take liberties we would never consider if we imagined we’d be overheard?

I hope my kid never says — or even thinks — the sort of derogatory things about a fellow human being that are reflected in the reprinted posts. But I would also hope that the response of his school, should a misguided private conversation be made public, would be to educate the students both about compassion and respect, and about responsible Internet communication. Isn’t education what schools are for?


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