Readers be advised: If you’re planning on liking or sharing this article online, as unlikely as I know that is, please protect your social media accounts first—apparently, our administrators can see just about everything, and might even punish you for it. You have been warned.
It started years ago when authority figures of all kinds found out the Internet wasn’t only a miraculous database of free information, but could also allow for heightened surveillance and intrusion! Schools were no different, with WW-P even scanning students’ MySpaces to check for worrisome activity. Although I’m not sure what they would have found besides some fringe music reposts—does listening to Insane Clown Posse count as probable cause? Nowadays, the avenues for spying on students’ personal lives are more numerous and revealing: public Twitter statuses, Facebook posts and Instagram pictures can all be accessed by administration and used as evidence against you. Last year, after the Great Food Fight broke out in the main hallway, administrators sorted through the chaos by monitoring students’ Twitter accounts—The Knightly News reported on this in a previous issue. And on the recent senior trip to Disney World, administrators called the parents of a senior and thoroughly searched his bags without his permission after reading a tweet vaguely referencing marijuana use. The search, of course, came up empty—what, guys, did you think you were going to catch something the TSA didn’t at the airport? Nice try, Sherlock. Nonetheless, it was a concerning revelation to know that I had to be wary about my activity online. My worry even extends to the possibility that they’re directly targeting “problem students” to catch them early for misdemeanors and try to shame them into submission.
Across town, South is dealing with far bigger complications to its online monitoring policy. The school was evacuated after a student tweeted “suicide bomb #rip,” and the incident made The Star Ledger. Sure, it’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to school violence, but listen to this: the student, who was charged with “inciting public unrest” as an adult, was, according to several students, talking about a fart. Hence the “rip,” not “R.I.P.” Nice job, administrators—you really caught him this time. If you insist on spying on our online lives, then I have a suggestion for a new administrative position—“social media interpreter.” Help wanted. Desperately.
As alarming as that whole unfortunate series of events was, last year there was an incident that angered me even more at our own high school. A student was punished by a school-run organization for re-tweeting a non-obscene (not that that should matter), non-libelous (or that either) criticism of a Student Council-run event. It was so ridiculous I almost didn’t believe that was all the fairly severe punishment was based on. But I shouldn’t have been surprised: this happens time and again, and it’ll keep happening unless we inform ourselves on how to avoid the prying eyes of administration. Or, better yet, get them to stop looking.
It’s a classic conflict in American history: to be free, or to be safe? Well, I guess as students we don’t even get to choose for ourselves anymore; our administrators have relieved us of that responsibility, opting, of course, for “safety.”
The point is, sure it’d be great to catch school shooters before they act, but that’s just not what’s happening here. School officials are using technology to target students suspected of wrongdoing and shame them into shape. It’s nothing new—the FBI did it for years with their Counter-intelligence Program, using wiretaps and mail monitoring to justify searches and investigations, and sometimes public accusations of such alarming crimes as “communist sympathy.” You might say I’m exaggerating in my comparison, and maybe you’re right, but it’s the same principle that is at stake in our own conflict—we must see that if we value our individual freedom at all. I, for one, am tired of being made to feel afraid or ashamed of my activity online merely because administration says I should be. Yes, monitoring social media might be useful for the one-in-a-million risk of a violent threat to the school, but it shouldn’t be used for anything else—not as probable cause for searches, not as a reason for suspension, and certainly not as impetus to alert the police of possible illegal doings. We should not have to protect our accounts to say what we want online.
@WWPAdministrators: Stop spying on us.