Social media and its application to laws that are not necessarily modern enough to properly engage with the issues at hand is a problem that many justice systems currently face.
In an attempt to begin tackling the issue, New York City released its first guidelines for educators on how social media activity should be conducted with students -- if at all -- this week.
The guidelines in question do not reach an outright ban, but they do warn staff to keep a clear and distinct line between personal and professional accounts.
The Department of Education also is considering asking parents to sign consent forms before children are allowed to participate in social media activities instigated by schools. This would extend to granting permission for a child's work or pictures to appear online, and serve as a means to inform parents about their particular school's social media usage policy.
School Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in an e-mail to city principals:
"In an increasingly digital world, we seek to provide our students with the opportunities that multi-media learning can provide -- which is why we should allow and encourage the appropriate and accepted use of these powerful resources."
In order to educate teachers and staff on these new guidelines, NYC will be providing training sessions and examples on appropriate social media usage in class and outside of it. The guidelines are an attempt to balance free-speech rights and still permit the use of social media as a valuable learning tool -- as long as the interaction is deemed appropriate and closely monitored. The guidelines say:
"In this digital era, the lines between professional and personal endeavors are sometimes blurred. Teachers should reject friend requests or other contact with students on their personal accounts."
Teachers in NYC will be informed that their online interaction with students will be monitored, and the guidelines state that employees should "have no expectation of privacy". Furthermore, principals are expected to report any inappropriate behaviour to relevant authorities.
The consequences for crossing the line can be severe. One high school teacher based at Crosby recently quit after it was discovered she was talking to one of her students on Facebook. The content was not sexual, but the student's parents discovered their son’s Facebook account and resulting conversations with the teacher. An investigation was launched and the teacher subsequently resigned.
In other cases, social media has facilitated inappropriate or sexual behaviour, and the number of complaints and arrests have risen sharply as the popularity of sites including Facebook and Twitter increases.
Image credit: Vancouver Film School
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