Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Social Media and Security

A few weeks ago, the “Afterschool” app gained popularity at Hazen Union School in Hardwick, VT. The app, through Facebook,  allows users to post anonymously to a group without being traced back to the user’s identity. The app’s website states that the intention is “a place for teens who want to be themselves, make new connections, and participate in positive activities - both online and offline.” I could not disagree more with this statement. The group that has been created through this app labeled “Hazen Uhsd #26” is filled with such foul vocabulary that is meant to intimidate, humiliate, and ridicule. Through this app, not only have students been bullied and harassed, but faculty and staff have been targeted as well. A large majority of our students are extremely upset and feel like it is out of control. As a school leader, I have felt helpless since there is very little we can do to support our students other than trying to be proactive through our lines of communication with stakeholders due to the anonymity of the app. That doesn’t feel very helpful when you have students in offices crying about something that has been posted about them and we can not respond with anything other than the trivial “sorry” and “if you get any specific information, please let us know.” This includes the recent anonymous threat that was posted and led to our heightened security. I would like to thank students and staff for responding in a very positive manner over the last few days. I would also like to thank Hardwick Police for the collaboration in making school safe and the current investigation that is under way.

Over the last few days we have been asking students ideas about the "Afterschool" App in a survey. Here is what students are feeling:

I would like people on the Afterschool App group "Hazen Uhsd #26" to stop posting negative things(116 responses)
TrueFalse11.2%88.8%
True103
False13

The message is clear. It is very unsettling to think that an app like this would be created and supported by the social media industry. Schools already have the overwhelming task of responding to issues that are outside of the school walls. It takes a community effort to focus on society values and it is getting harder and harder to understand what those values are with the amount of negativity that takes place on social media.

Schools and school leaders need to consider ways in which they can teach students about how social media can foster their growth and development. This includes inside and out of the school walls and it must include a variety of stakeholders: parents, community members, and state social service agencies. Essentially, we need to teach civil discourse to promote values that reflect a positive and all embracing community.

Have a safe and happy summer.

Regards,

Dr. Michael D. Moriarty
Principal
Hazen Union School