Staying in Line, Online

In response to online bullying and general internet safety concerns, some schools are considering the implementation of Internet surveillance of students. An October 28 “New York Times” article entitled “Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet” examined the tension between “balanc[ing] students’ free speech rights against the dangers children can get into at school and sometimes with the law because of what they say in posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.” While Internet surveillance may be an understandable measure, social networking and media are places for students to express themselves freely, and in most cases respectfully, outside of school. At a school like Andover where students spend the majority of their time on academics, athletics and school-related activities, such an outlet for out-of-school expression becomes even more critical. Internet surveillance breaks this wall down but builds new ones, seeding distrust between students and the administration as we mix the academic and the social. Yes, the Internet can both hurt and connect, but schools should trust the students who populate these online communities, as well as these networking sites themselves, to keep dialogue respectful. It is never acceptable for a student to bully or attack a peer online. Most people would agree that cases such as that of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, whose peers recorded and streamed a video online of him having sexual encounters with a man in his dorm, should never be allowed to occur. For the majority of cases, it is the responsibility of the students and the online communities they frequent to prevent such incidents. For school administrators to go out of their way to spy on their students’ social networking activity is a violation of privacy and their trust. As maturing individuals, students must have the space to fail and grow. If school administrators begin to monitor and censor students’ privacy as well as penalize them for actions not even committed on school property, then schools could control most aspects of their students’ lives. This does not, however, mean that schools do not have a right to intervene when instances of bullying arise. A student being bullied needs support. Thus the nature of student Internet communication is a bit of a catch-22. Schools cannot help when they are not informed. A proposed solution to this paradox is technology that searches student content for disturbing information. Schools would only be able to access this content if the program picked up specific keywords. This method—both invasive and effective only for text content­—remains incomprehensive. The bottom line falls to the students. As students, we need to regulate our own behavior and activity online if we are to avoid Internet surveillance as a permanent fixture in schools. We need to be more careful, more mindful and more compassionate when we post. The way to prevent the implementation of invasive solutions is to eliminate a need for them in the first place.