Your opinion requested on internet shenanigans

You probably already know that when Obama won the presidency a large number of people, many teenagers, tweeted racist comments about that. Funny story: I found out about the use of the n-word in relation to the re-elected President in one person’s tweet, so I figured I’d investigate. I went to twitter and entered the appropriate search terms, and found a bunch of hateful hideous tweets, as expected. About 20 down I found my friend Debbie Goddard. She had done the same search and tweeted about it. Sort of like hearing a bad noise in the yard and when you go out there to check it out you find your neighbor also checking it out.

Anyway, it turns out that Jezebel identified several high school students thusly tweeting and turned them into their high schools. Subsequent to this, The Young Turks did a piece on Jezebel’s action. The conversation among the Turks is interesting and reflects a lot of my own uncertainty about this situation. Below is TYS’s piece, please have a look and tell me what you think:

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7 thoughts on “Your opinion requested on internet shenanigans

  1. Those children were engaging in hate speech, not committing a social faux pas. Three cheers to Jezebel for outing them.

    The internet angle is irrelevant. Speech is speech.

  2. Sorry, but high-school students DO know better. For 12 years, they have gone through a system that tries its damnedest to unteach the racist attitudes of parents. This is the same “kids will be kids” bullshit that allows students to bully others (to death in some cases) with no actual consequences.

    My issue is with involving the school. The school has no ability to control behavior off of school grounds. We can talk about it in class, but once you leave our walls, you’re the responsibility of your parents and the State.

  3. Would any of these students stand up in front of a classroom and make the same statements? I say, probably not. In the social media there seems to be the idea that there is general indemnity against consequences from what is posted.
    I’ve read that now employers often check the internet presence of a job applicant, so being made aware that what is posted may reflect character issues to others may actually be a favor.
    Hey, if you said it and stand behind it, then take the consequences of it. That is why I have no issue w/ the identification of the individual students.
    Now whether the schools have the right to discipline them is an individual matter based on the district’s codes of conduct. Perhaps in the age of on-line expression this exact situation should be addressed.
    Should hate speech on the internet carry less personal responsibility than in other environments?

  4. There has to be a lesson along the lines of “It’s legal to say or write obnoxious, idiotic things. But saying or writing obnoxious, idiotic things will cause people to think of you as an obnoxious idiot, and it’s equally legal for them to say so.”

  5. School really is a time when children need freedom to make some mistakes without grave, life-long consequences.It’s not, however, the job of a school to prevent all consequences from affecting the actions of their students in any way.

    That being said, the immediate response of the schools to these mistakes should not be something as severe as an expulsion. That would do more harm than good in an environment where the children are supposed to be learning from their mistakes.

    As for Jezebel’s role, she certainly should have brought these comments to the attention of the schools in question. Schools can’t help children learn from their mistakes if they are unaware of those mistakes. This leaves us with the public shaming aspect.

    If Jezebel would have broken into private school records (or forced the release of those records) that would have been an obvious breach of the student’s privacy rights. What happened, though, is Jezebel gave a wider audience to something the students themselves had made public and promoted.

    As many IT people will tell you, most of the issues in the modern connected world all had counterparts in the pre-Internet days. The difference is most often one of scale (and the change in context which that scale implies). The same seems to apply here.

    If a student in the 1970’s would have created a racist poster and proudly marched around his neighborhood with it, should the local newspaper have taken a picture and identified the student? If an AP editor had seen that local newspaper article, should they have put it in a national feed during a week when racism and changing attitudes was in the news?

    I think the attitude then would have been that if the student was bold enough to march around the neighborhood holding a racist poster, then the media was simply reporting on their very public actions, and few would have blamed the media for that report.

    The differences with a Twitter message, of course, includes the notion of perceived privacy. For some reason many people don’t see a Tweet in the same light as marching a poster around in public despite the similarities (without the health benefits of exercise).

    A more important difference is how easy it will be for future employers to find the article about what these kids did. It’s much harder to live down your past in the Internet age. That’s the real issue here.

    In a perfect world, future employers wouldn’t scour the Internet for a person’s personal history and then make inaccurate decisions about the character of those people based upon comments made in high school. After all, does the fact that Romney was a bully in school mean that… Well, OK, sometimes there seems to be a indicator of future behavior, but often kids really do learn from their mistakes and change as they grow up.

    Taking what a kid said in a high school tweet as being indicative of the character of a thirty year old worker is just as insane as the managers who think that people who salt their food before tasting it are too impulsive to be a good employee. It’s pop-psychology at its worst.

    Bad hiring managers, however, won’t be going away any time soon.

    Does this mean the media needs to think about that before reporting on the kid marching around the neighborhood with a racist poster? That’s putting an awful lot of pressure and responsibility on the reporters and bloggers of the modern world. But yes, it should be a consideration.

    Overall, after sleeping in the issue, my instinct is to come down on the side of Jezebel in this instance. If a person (even a high school kid) proudly makes racist posters and actively makes them public, reporting that event (including names and locations) seems reasonable.

    If the students had been overheard in the locker room making racist remarks, I don’t think that should be publicized.

    Am I so old and out of touch as to not see locker room remarks as being equivalent to Twitter remarks? Is that a better analogy than marching around the neighborhood with a poster?

    I doubt it. My guess is that high school kids know far more about the workings of Twitter than I do, including the concept of public access to messages. They know it’s not just locker room comments. They knew they were putting up a very public message.

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