Social Media Ethics in School


According to a report by Microsoft, students from 8-18 years of age alone are on electronic devices for nearly 8 hours a day.   The Pew Research Center, which conducts extensive research and provides information on issues and trends shaping America, recently conducted a study and found 95% of students ages 12-17 are online, and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites.


The power of a post is amazing.  One person can create panic, cause for concern, irreparable damage to a business, and in some of the worst cases, irreparable damage to a person.   I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the implications of online bullying.  We only have to go back two months, for the suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, as a reminder of how powerful social media can be.   The Canadian teen posted a video on YouTube in which she used a series of flashcards to tell her story of being cyber-bullied through Facebook.  She took her life a few days after posting the video, on September 7th.


By the end of 2011, NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company, reported over 181 million blogs around the world.  That’s incredible, especially when compared to five years ago, when there were 36 million blogs.


So, it’s no surprise we’re spending a lot of time these days talking about citizen journalists and what their roles and responsibilities are when it comes to the definition of journalism.  Should those who choose to publish posts to their blog be held accountable for erroneous information they put out to the public?  Should they be held to the same standards as working journalists with a degree in journalism.


It is my belief that those who choose a blog to share their viewpoints and write stories, be responsible.  Once their post hits the Internet, it is there for the world to see.  It doesn’t matter if someone is posting something negative about a public figure or about the girl next store; facts should always be present.  I think the message is finally being heard.  We’re hearing more and more about lawsuits being won against bloggers.  In late March, Crystal Cox of Oregon, was ordered to pay a financial company $2.5 for a single blog post in which she accused it of tax fraud.   The company’s co-founder sued Cox for defamation, and won.  Cox told the judge overseeing the case she got the information from a reliable source and that she did not have to give up the source based on the Shield Law for journalists.  As part of the ruling, Judge Marco A. Hernandez rejected the notion that Cox was a journalist based on the following:

  • She did not have a formal education in journalism
  • She did not hold proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity
  • She arguably didn’t adhere to journalistic standards such as editing and fact checking
  • She did not keep notes of conversations and interviews conducted
  • She could not produce evidence that she had a mutual understanding or an agreement between the defendant and his or her sources
  • She did not contact the grieved party, before publishing, to get both sides of the story

She’s not alone.  There are countless other cases of bloggers being sued for defamation.


As we move forward, something has to change. Judge Marco Hernandez has, at least, set some groundwork for bloggers.  It’s a tricky situation.  Freedom of Speech allows people the right to be heard.  So, instituting some form of training or requiring a license to blog, wouldn’t work.  I think the answer lies within the school system.   Social Media Ethics should be taught to children as early as middle school.

Scott Shirey, the Coordinator of Federal Programs and Curriculum at Dallastown Area School District in York County, Pennsylvania says, “In the scope of all curriculum, digital literacy is one of the newest components now that hardware has become more reliable and relatively inexpensive…it’s an important need and will be addressed in some way.”  Shirey adds schools face challenges though, in fitting more material into an already packed curriculum.  “Unfortunately, schools are not ‘graded’ or compared by student soft skills, even though employers and much of the community would rather schools teach these.  In my opinion, social media ethics will not be an emphasis for most districts as they are concerned about Language Arts and Math scores,” adds Shirey.

Even so, Shirey says his district and many others touch on online safety.  “We offer brief lessons in grades 4-6, during library class, cautioning students on using the Internet carefully.  Once students enter 7th grade, multiple lessons are dedicated to social networking and the proper ways to communicate online.”

Perhaps the push for comprehensive cyber ethics training in public schools will need to come from the federal government.  The benefits of such training would go beyond protecting the students.  It would also create more responsible citizens who, more and more, are becoming active participants in the dissemination of news.


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