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Jeff Ward: There is Nothing Private About Facebook

Principal Terry Bleau and GMSS administrators did exactly the right thing when they asked a student to show them her Facebook page.

Imagine your son or daughter posted an online suicide note and not one of her 1,082 Facebook “friends” lifted a finger to stop it. In fact, some of them encourage her to go ahead and end her life.

Don’t say it could never happen, because it did.

What if your middle school daughter sent a nude picture of herself to friends and very specifically described her current and potential sexual experiences on Facebook? What would you do when the news spreads through the school like wildfire?

How would you react if your middle school son brought marijuana-laced brownies to school and, having gotten away with it, bragged about the “prank” on Facebook? Don’t laugh. It happened in Virginia!

What would you do if your son, in response to incessant middle school bullying, posted heart rending cries for help on Facebook and, after they're ignored, he takes his own life. I could fill this page with links to real-world examples.

What if your son or daughter is the one doing the online bullying?

Now put yourself in the school administrator’s shoes. And a number of students come to you with any one of these revelations or worse, that another student posted they were bringing a weapon to school. What would you do?

I wouldn’t have to waste a fleeting nanosecond thinking about it. I’d do exactly what Geneva Middle School South Principal Terry Bleau did. I’d call the student(s) into my office, ask them to show me their Facebook page, and then take the appropriate action, the least of which would be to call their parents.

As long as I’m still breathing and I have a shot at preventing a needless death, a dangerous situation, or an illegal act, it won’t be happening on my watch.

Ah! But given both our current parental entitlement mentality epidemic and the damned-if-you-do-or-don’t nature of dealing with social media, resorting to these proactive measures didn’t work out too well for Principal Bleau.

Not only is he getting raked over the coals by a parent, but some of you all are getting your best barbs in, too. And I thought a youth soccer coach’s life was fraught with peril.

On her engineering blog, Geneva Public Works Assistant Director for “interrogating” her 13-year-old daughter regarding alleged sexual activity and for demanding to see her Facebook page.

The story gained national attention when an MSNBC blogger picked it up.

“Whoa, Jeff! We’ve got you now! Aren’t you the one who always comes out so vehemently against random school drug searches? And now you’re supporting this privacy breach? Let's see you worm your way out of this one!

I’ll be happy to do just that.

First, my problem has always been with the word “random” and not the word "search." If school administrators have reasonable and probable cause to search a locker for a weapon, drugs or other illegal item, then it is their implicit duty to do just that.

Second, what most middle schoolers, high schoolers, and apparently some parents fail to understand is, there is no expectation of privacy on a social media website. Broviak’s contention that GMSS violated her daughter’s privacy is patently absurd when you consider that putting yourself out on Facebook is the very antithesis of privacy.

And it’s abundantly clear from the comments here that quite a few of you know exactly what was said online because your children told you.

Third, though the written policy regarding social media seems a bit too vague for my taste, Principal Bleau made this GMSS position abundantly clear during a beginning-of-the-school-year assembly.

He warned all students that if something posted on a social media website was dangerous, illegal, spread rumors, or disrupted the school environment, administrators would call the author down to the office and ask to see it firsthand. My son remembers that speech well.

If you don’t like the policy, then you have options. Private school is one—though I think you’ll find them to be even stricter. I’m not fond of No Refusal weekends, but as long as I choose to live in Kane County I have to accept the possibility of being pulled over for a random sobriety test.

In the end, Ms. Brovkiak’s course of action utterly baffles me.

Were I in her shoes, I’d be embarrassed that the school knew about this before I did! If and when my sons ever embrace Facebook, you can be sure I’m going to be one of their “friends.” As for secret Facebook pages or texts, there are all sorts of software out there that can easily ferret out that kind of thing.

Though she certainly has a right to disagree with the GMSS policy, considering that even Broviak admitted the cause for concern was sexual in nature, the last thing I would’ve done is to make it even more public by putting it out there on a blog.

Suddenly she doesn’t seem quite so concerned about her middle school daughter’s privacy. 

Terry Bleau and GMSS did the right thing. They were on top of a situation that was potentially illegal, dangerous, and certainly disrupted the school. And the parents should’ve been grateful that they didn’t ignore it.

Over the past four years I’ve dealt with Terry Bleau on a wide variety of issues, and though we don’t always agree, there’s a reason he was just named .

It’s too bad he didn’t get a few seconds to enjoy it.

Justin Eggar May 22, 2012 at 03:34 PM
This is a more than mildly complicated situation. There isn't an easy button. If you call the authorities every time a student looks cross ways, pretty soon our students are all going to be criminals. Where I grew up students were still spanked (I grew up in the Fiji Islands). They didn't ask parents - it was part of the culture that in school if you acted like you need discipline you received it. I'm thankful that I received spankings instead of spending time at the police station explaining why I put gum in Sally's hair (example). I'm not opening the spanking discussion, that's not what this is about. However, I'm not sure if going to the police for every issue is doing children any favors. One of the worst things about the US is our consumerist tendency to say "what we would have done". Given our excellent 20/20 hindsight, we all should have won every bowl, made a billion dollars, and won at life. However, that is obviously not the case. Perhaps our opinions should consider all sides of a situation rather than layering on our personal feelings about it. Btw, can we ban some of these users that aren't using their names? It's clearly in the TOS: http://geneva.patch.com/terms
Tony Pronenko May 22, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Jeff, I will have to give you this one. You are absolutely right. But then we have to ask ourselves where does the line get drawn? Who gets to be the one to interpret the posts made by students, and who gets to judge what constitutes a threat? As said previously this is a very fine line that we are approaching. Maybe you are also correct about WHEN the objections should have come - when policy was made clear at the beginning of the year. As parents and members of the "school community" I think we then have an obligation to discuss this in great detail prior to the next school year and make the policy abundantly clear to all. Of course... many will say, "wasn't that already done?" Sure. But it seems it needs to be done once again. And yes.. the school did the right thing. I just wonder if the flipping through multiple FB pages on the girls account was necessary. Ahh.. but then again, I don't think any of us can claim to know EXACTLY what and how this went down unless we were there.
Aaron May 22, 2012 at 04:21 PM
I might be an "old school" parent, but I don't think a 13-14 year old on Facebook is a good idea. This is just horrible.
dana May 22, 2012 at 07:46 PM
the only questionable issue here is how it was handled in his office which we may never know. personally i support the school, doubt they behaved inappropriately and am glad they take action when necessary. if the student did not want to give out the facebook info the parents could have been called in.
Noel G. Rooks May 23, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Double edged sword, I think. The administration does have a right to investigate things that are harmful and/or disruptive regarding students. That said, I think the bugaboo here from what I've read is that they questioned her without benefit of her parents being there? Which they should have done. In an abuse case, Jeff, as mandated reporters, the school would be obligated to call the authorities, not the parents, so that makes the point moot. I guess my question is, if the mom was out of town, where was dad? I don't know the people involved, but I would think that a 13 year old would still be staying with/have someone supervising her if mom was away. The greater question, too, is, as a parent I would think mom and dad would be more closely supervising what goes on on their daughter's FB page. But then, devil's advocate, what if the school did call the parents and they weren't concerned? (Not saying that happened in this case but it has happened before) What is the school's role to protect students then? And how do you protect people from their own dumb 13 year old selves? I'm glad I grew up pre social media, if half the dumb stuff I did in high school were eternally preserved...how embarrassing.

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