A Singapore Case Study In How Educators Should NOT Use Social Media Reply

Should schools track their students and dictate what can be put on an individual’s social media account and what should be removed?

Apparently one Singapore school does, and in my assessment the real shining star turns about the be the student who got into trouble.  A story in Today recounts how a student wrote an allegedly vulgar comment about the school’s dress code and posted it to Twitter.  Her real ID is hidden, but the school invested its precious resources into tracking her down and a couple weeks later and, “told her to remove the vulgar tweet.”  I have not seen the tweet, so must rely on the journalist’s portrait of these events.

But here is the interesting part.  Even after the school’s (in my opinion) questionable approach to social media and monitoring, the student still asked that the school not be named in the newspaper article.  While practical considerations such as getting into further trouble may well have (my speculation) prompted such a request from the student, the outcome is that her protecting the school’s good name leaves her looking like the more sophisticated media user.  We aren’t given the reason for the request; we see only her efforts to not name the school.

You can read the full story here.  I am glad to see my employer, SMU, on the record as using a “light tough.”  I think this is wise.  If something does go too far, we should use the inappropriate tweet, blog post, or whatever as a teaching moment rather than a cause for what must feel like punitive action.  And also, think of what the students must be saying about the institution, as they gossip.

So here are a few helpful reminders we can take from this story.

Students: Once again, the Internet never forgets.  All the bad language, emotion outbursts, gossip, and sexist comments will remain searchable for as long as the world has electricity.  Don’t create for yourself such a history of poor taste and judgment.  Employers, friends, and potential life partners can all see this and immediately see what is happening.  Employers do search your background when hiring.  And on top of that, why dimish the credibility of the degree you are paying so much for and working so hard (I hope) to earn? 

Schools: Taking actions which so openly expose your sensitives, and thus inviting the stereotypical accusations of big brother or a nanny institution, do you no favors. Your response needs to be guided by the organizational values, and educational institutions should have aspirational values (I hope).  Use these instances as teaching moments.  Take the higher road and help the student find success.  Make your institution’s social media policy both clear and transparent (I would love to know what has been communicated to students prior to this incident, and after).  Remember we are here to develop future leaders, and we need to act consistently with that mission and responsibility. 

Social media is here to stay.  Organizations of all types need to show better leadership, and individuals need to understand the suite of consequences which accompany online life (thin-skinned employers, privacy issues, and an Internet that never forgets).  This also reminds me of something I read a long time ago (I forget the resource).  We need a statute of limitations on stupid behavior.  Everyone makes mistakes, but there comes a time when we should just move on…which I will do right now.

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