Facebook: Friend or Foe

Friend:  A high school lacrosse coach creates a Facebook group page for his team.  He uses it to communicate schedule updates and coordinate team events: the pre-season dinner; a community service endeavor; or a trip to a UVM lacrosse game.  While he uses it share positive post game feedback, encouragement and words of wisdom, parents use it to stay informed and share their favorite game photos.  And most importantly, team members use it to stay connected, because whether friends in school or not, during the season they are part of a community with a common purpose.  This use of Facebook models for our youth how to respectfully interact digitally as a member of a community.

Foe: [excerpt from Vicious: True Stories About Bullying edited by Hope Vanderburg, 2012] It begins with Catherine harmlessly joking around with a male friend on Facebook, when one of his FB “friends”, who Catherine does not know, jumps in and begins aggressively insulting her.  Catherine tries to call her out on the unprovoked aggression, but to no avail.  Catherine realizes she cannot reason with the perpetrator so she digitally disengages.  Several weeks later, the two girls end up at a party together and recognize each other by their FB profile pictures.  The girls get into a confrontation that turns physical and Catherine ends up with four facial fractures. To further add insult to injury, the fight is videotaped and then uploaded to FB where others could view it and click “Like”. This use of FB shows the risk of how a virtual confrontation can escalate into a real-life situation and even be life threatening as well as the urge to turn everything into visual entertainment that is desensitizing people and making them less empathetic.

As a school principal, I am in the position to witness the most inspirational and beneficial educational and social uses of Facebook as well as the most horrific socially and personally harmful misuses.  Myriad information technology (IT) misuses concern schools from system security issues and privacy to respect for the institution, others and self; however the potential negative impact, both immediate and long term, of the misuse of social media platforms is of the greatest concern to schools currently.

The use of technology in general requires our youth to act in accordance with common societal norms and values with regard to responsibility for the institution, others and self. This is especially challenging for youth who do not yet possess the moral and social development to either use IT responsibly and/or do not understand potential IT risks and how to mitigate them. Although there will always be laws and technical security, the decisions about information sent or received and the activities engaged in through the use of IT will be largely controlled by individual choice, (Willard, N. Moral Development in the Information Age, 1998) and in order to support the pro-social, moral development of youth, schools and families need to understand the factors that influence behavior in the age of technology. There is as much learning for adults in this area as there is for our youth.

Increasingly, serious discipline infractions at school including fighting, bullying and harassment, and cheating are connected to the use (in and out of school) of technology in the form of FB and/or electronic communication (world wide web, email and text messaging) and Federal and State statues are mandating school response.  It is the premise of Harwood Union, in collaboration with families and community agencies, to assume a leadership role in preparing our youth to successfully participate in the world of technology; that is to be pro-active in providing comprehensive education in the risk factors of IT along with strategies to stay safe while at the same time, creating opportunities that engage students and demonstrate the positive use of electronic devices and social media platforms.