Some Internet learning moments just keep on giving, unfortunately. On Wednesday, the article “Facebook search criticized” by Herald reporter Sharon Salyer was published in the paper and on Heraldnet.com. The story in a nutshell: In an effort to track down students “cyber bullying” another student, a vice principal asked a student — who was neither the bully, nor the bullied — to sign into her Facebook account so he could see what others were posting. The concerned parents contacted the ACLU, which advised that the vice principal’s request was “likely illegal and most certainly improper.”
Not all learning moments belong to the children, as the vice principal’s no doubt well-intentioned but incorrect and intrusive action shows. Trying to contend with a scourge like cyber bullying is a gargantuan task like no other, but coercing an innocent student into signing onto Facebook is too bully-like for comfort, teaching the wrong lesson. Children and adults need to know their rights, and children and adults, especially adults, need to know their limits. Which brings us to the unfortunate “keeps on giving” learning moment produced from this specific story.
A photograph of the family ran with the article, in the paper and online. Naturally, the online comments began to pile up Thursday, because the topic and its sub-categories all need discussion. Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, however, several comments ignored the entire substance of the story, and rather, in varying degrees of ugliness, judged the parents on their looks and ventured all sorts of slander about their character. (Which is why newspaper editors must “censor” them. Among many problems, slander is illegal.) All the cruel posts were made anonymously, of course. So for people who don’t know, that is exactly what “cyber bullying” looks like. Practiced by adults. We won’t repeat their garbage, except to turn one back at them: Some people should not be commenters. Period.
If the story had not been accompanied by the photo, would the online bullies even have read it?
Should articles have a mandatory reading comprehension test at the end before allowing people to comment?
Would the anonymous commenters be willing to post their comments under a picture of themselves? Why not?
Does lobbing self-righteous slanderous screeds left and right ever feel like bullying to the anonymous posters? Why not? What in the world wrong with them? What was wrong with their parents?
See how easy it is to start judging? See how it might feel to be on the other side? Has a single cyber slanderer read this far? Adult bullies need to be called out, too.