Jan 12, 201211:29 AMDaily News
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When gossip becomes a threat
Yesterday, my daughter who is a senior at a local high school emailed me a link to a website she thought I should take a look at. When I clicked on the link, it began with a paragraph that suggested the site creator knew all of the school’s “secrets.”
“This should be interesting,” I thought. After all, it’s a small-town school and there are bound to be a lot of secrets—many of which I’ve already heard about through the local grapevine.
The website included photos of kids at the school, but what I found most compelling was the captions on the photos.
At first blush, some were scandalous, suggesting that there was a rift between the friends pictured or a clandestine relationship or other such items of gossip.
Of course, when the students saw the pictures and captions, they instantly assumed their secrets had been exposed and many felt threatened.
The website quickly became the talk of the school.
But as I gazed through the photos and captions with an outsider’s (and parent’s) critical eye, I quickly realized there was nothing threatening about them.
The photos could have easily been copied from Facebook or other websites, including the school district website. The captions were so vague that they couldn’t legally be considered slanderous (as a journalist, I’ve been taught to know what is/isn’t gonna get you in trouble).
The other thing I noticed was in the first sentence, it referenced the “East side” prior to referencing the town name.
Those of us who live in Boiling Springs know that there is no “East side.” That, to me, was a red flag that whoever created the site knows little about our town. I began to wonder if this was some kind of phishing scheme that may be sweeping high schools across the area.
As a parent, the only thing that concerned me about the site was the potential for it to become threatening, and the only way to know that was to keep a watch on it.
My daughter said she didn’t feel threatened, although her pictures were not included on the site. She was more curious about who may have created the site.
It was no big deal, we thought.
Apparently, it was a big deal. In my email today, I found a note from the high school principal.
“It was brought to the high school administration's attention yesterday that a website had been posted on the internet totally dedicated to gossip relating to some students who attend the high school. The matter was investigated. The State Police were made aware and to our knowledge the site has been removed,” the email stated.
(I looked and, indeed, the site is gone).
The principal continued, “While I have your attention, this matter is once again another example of how social media sites can be used to potentially harm others character or reputation. The photos that were posted on this site apparently came from other students Facebook pages. I encourage you to take a moment with your child or children to have a discussion about the dangers of what is posted on a page and how those photos can end up at another location on the internet.”
And that was the end of the email.
Apparently, the takeaway from this teaching moment is that kids need to watch out for what they post on social media sites.
I can’t say I disagree with the principal’s conclusion. However, that’s not the takeaway I got from the incident.
There are so many good lessons that could’ve been conveyed here.
First, he could’ve mentioned something about the appropriate conduct of students. Like how they should realize that what they do in their private lives can be publicized by anyone with a camera phone and willful intent. (Maybe that would make them think twice about underage drinking, illegal drug use and all the other things many students are doing outside of class that they think no one will find out about).
He could have educated the students to look at such things with a more critical eye. Had they taken a step back, they could’ve seen that the post was vague and not a direct threat, thus reassuring the kids and diffusing some of the brouhaha.
Instead, we got notification of something most of us had already heard about from our children (and thanks to texting, many of us probably heard about before the principal did), and a reminder to warn our kids about web safety.
The email raised more questions than it answered for me.
What are your thoughts?
How would you react to something like this if it happened at your child’s school? Would you be concerned? Do you feel the school handled it appropriately? As a society, are we encouraging our children to panic or be proactive? Post your comments here.
Andrea Ciccocioppo, Central Penn Parent Editor