The End of Privacy?

Read the headlines and you find that politicians are resigning because they have a shirtless picture on the Internet tied to a false biographical sketch.  Teachers are being put on leave for posts critisizing administrators or being tagged in photos with alcholic beverages.  Student are being suspended for making disparaging remarks about teachers as well as for making threats or statements considered as bullying towards their fellow students.  My focus for this post is not to discuss whether or not teachers have a right to post what they want, or about whether what students say in the privacy of their own homes is actionable at school, that debate would be mute moot if people would just think before they pushed the button that publishes a post on a social network.  Privacy does still exist.  You can choose to keep anything private.  The key is keep it to yourself!  For goodness sakes, if you want to have deniability do not put it on the Internet or send it in a message via a cell phone.  We need to do a better job of modeling digital citizenship.  What is scary is opponents of the use of social networking and cell phones in schools are gaining traction because of a few isolated incidents.  Some of us have fought too hard to bring the power of social networking into school to let a few incidents roll back our progress.  Instead of keeping these tools out of our classrooms, we need to integrate them where useful and guide our students in acceptable use.  We need to open our labs in the evenings and invite parents in to dispell the myths and show them how to monitor their student’s use of social media.  Teach parents to connect with their student’s school and each other to discuss education and student engagement.  Even if we wanted to, we could not keep our students from using cell phones or social media.  We might as well be involved with their use of these tools.  We also have to realize that our use will be monitored as well.  Don’t put anything on the Internet you would not want your grandma or some future employer to see!

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4 thoughts on “The End of Privacy?

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  2. Claiming an issue is moot (not mute, by the way), does not make it so. You’re ignoring a fundamental human right (that of free speech) by doing so, which is not something that should be dismissed out of hand. What good is social media in the classroom, if it’s forever under a looming axe?

    Guiding students in a balanced way in the use of social media, certainly valid, especially when it harms others. The same applies to teachers, but there are objective laws and measures which guide that. Not an arbitrary/vague/subjectively derived moral understanding which often only comes into being when someone feels offended or has a political motivation.

    Teachers pictured with alcohol? Do we believe students are so weak of mind that they’ll suddenly become alcoholics because of this? Shouldn’t this mean all media, everywhere, should be banned from showing adults in that position? Are parents so devoid of responsibility they can’t discuss or guide their children in that regard?

    Posts criticizing the system or administration? That’s certainly one way to ensure everyone is blissfully ignorant of any failings or problems. Just shut up, shove it under the rug and hope it goes away. It may be a new medium, but aren’t educators often praised/defended for doing this exact same thing via letters to the editor, etc? Or as acting as advocates for education? Why does it being social media change that? Or even if not so noble an action, when did having an opinion become a crime?

    Students are having issues with teachers? This is new? And more so, if they are, isn’t it better to find out why and how the situation can be improved? More so than punishing them for, at worst, thinking/saying what just about every person has at some point in their lives?

    The problem here, is that you’ve lumped negative actions which do need some control, in with actions that should be protected in a free and democratic society. Unless educators and students are meant to be exempt from that status, which I would find deeply disconcerting considering current events in Tunisia and Egypt, as examples.

    And beyond that concern, when you sanitize/monitor/restrict these things, you’re going to cripple the very benefits you seek. If students feel watched/unsafe to speak freely, they will hide their real thoughts or find other unmonitored methods to communicate. If it’s sanitized, it will become unreal, boring, they will ignore it. If you restrict it, you destroy creative potential in it’s function.

    To be blunt, this is just a different way of saying the same thing that older generations do, what they don’t get. The reason for the rise of the Internet among so many, especially the young, is because information and opinion are allowed to flow, are accessible in a heartbeat. Because the interaction and socialization spans age, association and geography, you have friends you can connect with who you’ve never met. It is the somewhat volative nature of these new mediums that drives the interaction and interest.

    If you clamp it in irons, you lose all of that. Fear it, keep it to the social norms of your grandmother and you lose it’s value. You may implement social media in your classes, but it will likely mean nothing. Instead, and ironically, educate and guide your students through the maze, don’t put them in a padded room and believe they’ll be engaged (or prepared for what comes after the door is opened). And certainly, don’t put teachers (or principals) in a position of being second class citizens with restricted rights and freedoms who get dropped the moment a parent has their delicate hearts flutter.

    It’s not easy to do it the right way, certainly, and you will have that vocal group of technophobes/etc who oppose it… But, doing it the wrong way, does not serve students by any means.

  3. EchoInside, Thank you for your comment. Where to start? We have several items on which we disagree. I certainly do not ignore the right of free speech, but I will also not ignore that although we are free to say what we want (within reason); what we say is not without consequences. The illustrations about how the use of social media has brought consequences to individuals may be abhorrent to you, but they are real. I did not condemn those examples in my post but I did not say I agreed either, the very discussion we are having here needs to move to the classroom; in fact that was the purpose of this post. I certainly did not mean to come across as person who claims the moral high ground and therefore portend to have final say on what students, teachers or anyone else should post on the Internet. I will tell you this, as an employer I do look to see what a potential employee’s digital footprint looks like. If that footprint is rife with postings and actions that show poor judgment, it does not reflect well on that person. So are we as educators, or for that matter parents/adults right to abrogate the responsibility to model responsible use of social media? I do not want to be the authority who has to monitor what is posted, but I will also say don’t cry about privacy when you post something that violates the objective laws and measures, as you put it, on a public network! You have the right to keep it to yourself or risk the consequences for posting or texting it where it does become a problem. I do agree with you that we should not put students in a rubber room and sanitize the Internet for them; I fail to see the irony in my post. Maybe it is because I am to close to the age of a grandfather?

    I do enjoy the pushback here. Please know that my tone is not intended to be disrespectful if it comes off that way. (I love the sketches on your website and have two rescue dogs myself)

  4. (My apologies if this goes off the rails a bit, I’m actually at around 26 hours awake and not sure how well I’m writing/proofreading =P)

    Hrm, first off, will say, “no worries” on tone. I was actually worried after I posted that I might have come off as disrespectful, when also not intended. My reaction is more one based in passion (and sometimes frustration). To elaborate on that, my perspective is in part from being born in South Africa during the era of apartheid, witnessing the transition to democracy and having been involved in education through various means, as well as IT. So your post basically hit on some major aspects of my experience/thoughts.

    In regards to the illustrations, my apologies for misunderstanding. The examples being collected as they were, seemed to infer they were equivalent to me. That said, I’m not sure the issue of free speech can be disentangled from the subject as a whole. It might be socially acceptable that there are consequences for expressing an opinion, but if those judgements are made separately from the rule of law, they are still a form of censorship. One, that a teacher or student has only a marginal ability to understand prior to any incident, in that it can vary from individual to individual, to city, to state, etc. Effectively by accepting that approach, it means there are no limitations (due to subjectivity) on when a teacher might be dismissed or a student suspended due to a complaint. It creates a culture of fear, where it’s always better to be cautious and say nothing, even when a comment might be warranted and valid. It’s on the extreme end of examples, but it’s actually exactly how the dictatorship I experienced rationalized its control of academic institutions. The teachers/students could easily be accused of “being unprofessional”, “difficult”, “displaying poor judgement”, “detrimental to society”… It sounds perfectly reasonable, in theory.

    Or to say it another way, your evaluation based on a digital footprint may actually be perfectly reasonable. However, the educational environment exists in a state where two recent events jump out at me, first the attempt to undermine/ban the teaching of evolution and attempts to revise history in regards to the reasons for the US civil war. (I’m going to go with the assumption that you’d not agree with either of those concepts, on an objective level, but if that’s not the case, any example can be inserted). If a subjective approach is used on social media (or speech in general), individuals with personal/political interests on those subjects can use that against any instructor who speaks in opposition to those events. And I’ve read of some cases where there have been attempts to do just that. Even the best attempts to codify/create guidelines for these situations would still retain personal bias to some degree. Just as another theoretical example, if a guideline was “Public criticism of the administration is considered unprofessional”, would that not create an environment that is less accountable, let alone fair? Public could be determined to be as minimal as a spouse, criticism could be extended to include complaints about a bad day. It’s why I believe stepping beyond the bounds of law creates an environment of abuse, however well intentioned.

    If there is a violation of laws, or bullying, etc, those individuals should certainly be held accountable. But, the law is a far cry (and has some balances/controls) from what this approach seems to embody. And I’ll point out in amusement at this point, the limitation of the medium in this case. Communication is not without pitfalls, especially in an environment without proper expression (we both worried about unintended offence after all) which adds yet another dimension to determining if use of the medium was responsible or not… and again with the risk of subjectivity it brings.

    In regards to the age differential, I’m wondering how best to explain what I see to be the disconnect. I think one of the major issues is treating the new medium to a standard beyond previous ones. I’m not sure of how effectively it will be, but I’ll try and draw some parallels.

    On the example of sending a message via cell phone. In intent, it’s meant to be a private communication to an individual or small group. Not that much different from how phone calls were in past. There’s an expectation of trust/privacy. If someone chooses to forward/share that text, it really should hold only the weight of someone gossiping after a phone call. Or should it be that their phone was snooped/examined, no different from a switchboard operator listening in without their knowledge. E-mail in principle, is much the same. (There has been some case law in regards to both these transmission methods and an expectation of privacy is basically the precedent now, outside of criminal evidence. With the notable exception that e-mail on an employer provided system does not retain the right/expectation of privacy).

    With regards to social networks, I’ll refer to facebook on sharing photos/comments. I can’t really think of a truly valid analog (closest I can come up with is a family newsletter sent by post, or photos sent via that means), but there is still an expectation of privacy to some degree. (The case law affirms this up until a certain point, which has so far been vaguely defined as a reasonable threshold with number of friends and how many are part of the employing organisation. Effectively, if your social network is too broad, you lose the inherent protections, but otherwise do not. And there is also the consideration of active investigation, effectively even if information is not actively protected, that an employer has to specifically search out the information can be overreach. To say it another way, active seeking such data is actually outside the scope of employer evaluations. Before the Internet, employers would not have sought this sort of information out/be granted access to it, and it gets into the question of how much control an employer is allowed over personal lives. Though that’s just the current standing, cases/appeals are still ongoing so no solid precedent yet).

    In regards to blogs, these are a public medium without the expectation to privacy, but they are firmly entrenched within free speech. Not unlike a newspaper column, or even a speech (since there’s audience interaction). For this, even guidelines as to “external behaviour” would cross the threshold of breaching that human right. People may of course still act upon them, but well, that seems rather immoral. (Though the case law seems to be pretty chaotic at this point). But, to give a direct example, if we were to use a subjective rationale for evaluation of blogs, you, yourself would be in danger. If for you answer affirmatively or negatively to the educational environment examples I gave, you could be condemned for either unprofessional action in undermining objective education, or for suppressing religious freedom (not answering could also be criticized). Even your advocacy for technology/social media itself could be, under the reasoning of exposure/risk to children. We’d both, I’d think, consider such accusations silly, but they’d be valid arguments under a subjective enforcement policy. (And there have been cases where educators have been punished under such flimsy reasoning, again, the problem with subjective/personal/political applications)

    Basically, all of that boils down to a question of what is being sanitized, or who and by who for what justifications. It’s likely impossible to exert that control over the Internet as a whole, so why do educators/students get specially targeted to be sanitized outside of the normal considerations of law? And if such extra-judicial action is allowed/supported, there’s always the cliché of “who watches the watchers?” I think the irony comes in, in that the options seem to be to educated students and give them the skills to thrive/be critical/be safe from others (and perhaps their parents as well). Or to insulate and isolate the educators themselves, to dehumanise them. It just seems like the latter is an extreme contradiction against what the core principles a society/school advocates for.

    Basically, censorship outside of more objective bounds disturbs me, thought that in itself, is of course my own personal bias 😉

    (Thanks for the comment. And ah, that’s wonderful. My fiancée is unfortunately allergic to most of animal kind, so I sadly can’t take any in myself, now. There are so many that need good homes.)

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