MySpace Warning in the Local Media Yet Again

Here’s the 3,435,671th warning about putting stuff on MySpace (or Facebook) and thinking that it’s completely private, though this one has a twist: The Ann Arbor News ran a lead story in last night’s paper with the headline “Online comments roil officials.” Frankly, my first reaction was “what does ‘roil’ mean?” My wife, smarter than me, set me straight– “pissed off.” Anyway, here are the opening passages:

Editor’s note: This story contains a term that may offend some readers. The News does not print profanity unless it is important for the understanding of the story.

Saline High School Senior Bobby Schilke thought the disparaging comments he posted on about the school district superintendent would only be seen by other members of his network on the Web site.

Schilke, 18, was surprised when he was called to the superintendent’s office with his parents for what he described as a scolding.

Beverley Geltner, the Saline superintendent, found out about the group – called “new superintendent = bitch” – and other sites she said contained “inappropriate language.” She held meetings with families, including the one with Schilke and his parents.

Geltner said the aim of the meetings was to address the “limited understanding” that parents and young people have about the dangers of Internet postings.

“A lot of things were said about people, including me, that were hurtful, ignorant,” said Geltner, who declined to say how many students were involved in meetings. “I paused and thought, ‘What is my responsibility?’ These are our students.”

Schilke’s father Ken Schilke said his son did nothing wrong.

“There’s no shame in expressing yourself,” said Ken Schilke, who attended the meeting along with Bobby Schilke’s mother. “Unless (not criticizing administrators) is in the code of conduct, then there’s no reason to quash the freedom of expression.”

This is kind of an interesting case/example, if you ask me. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be real pleased if there was a MySpace book calling me a “bitch” or whatever. But on the other hand, I don’t think I’d call that student into my office and yell at them. And on the third hand, it seems to me that if you are the superintendent of a school district, then you are more or less a “public figure” and open yourself up for that kind of criticism.

One way or the other though, it’s clear to me that Geltner over-reacted and the Ann Arbor News took on this story since it contained the oh-so-dangerous words My Space. Well, that and the word “bitch.”

Anyway, the solution here is to have some workshops and meetings to talk about some of the “safety and privacy” issues with MySpace. Geltner said that she was bothered by some of the groups on both MySpace and Facebook that had racial and gender-biased language. Back to the paper itself:

n cases where she perceived a threat, Geltner said she was be obligated to call the police. In other instances, such as Schilke’s, she notified parents and brought the family in for a meeting.

Geltner declined to say how many threats she may have passed along to the police, but Pittsfield Township Director of Public Safety John Phillips said that those found threatening are currently under investigation.

“Kids talk to each other, they think it’s the same type of secrecy as going into a room, writing in a diary and locking it in the top drawer,” Phillips said.

Phillips will be among the speakers at the community meetings Wednesday. The seminars were planned for parents and students to shed light on online risks, Geltner said.

“Young people may unwittingly be opening themselves to consequences they hadn’t thought about,” she said.

Consequences like being hauled into the superintendent’s office, no doubt.

On the one hand, it probably isn’t a bad idea to alert/remind students about the consequences of posts on Facebook, MySpace, blogs, etc., that these things aren’t completely private. Although as an aside, I think this is something that most high school and college-aged folks already know. I mean, I’ve had these sorts of conversations with my 9 year-old son, and the idea that the internet is a very public space is common sense to him.

But clearly, clearly, the main reason why Geltner is doing this is because some kid called her a “bitch” in a public forum. They could have had these community meetings on the “dangers” of MySpace months– years– ago. The fact that it took Geltner and the other folks in Saline this long to find out about this new fangled thing called MySpace is problematic, and the idea that the motivation for these meetings is “safety” when it clearly is about taking offense at being called a bad name is even more troubling.

5 thoughts on “MySpace Warning in the Local Media Yet Again”

  1. Who seez technology doesn’t make life easier? When I was in high school, we used to have to get up in the dead of the night to spray paint such comments on the side of the school!

  2. This superintendent’s reaction was inappropriate and petty. I believe the student was 18 years old at the time; she was out of line to call him in to discuss this, and while I typically agree that parents should support the school district, I applaud the boy’s father for standing up for free speech.

    I believe Geltner was fired (or resigned?) from her last school district over similar nonsense activities. She needs to retire for good in my opinion. She is almost 70 years old, I understand.

    P.S. I would feel a lot better about this blog entry if you, as an English professor, knew what the word “roil” meant. I think I have even used it in casual conversation!

  3. Steven’s observations about Bev Geltner’s statements and actions earlier in 2007 are very telling now – now that her whole portfolio of messy actions and communication snaffu’s is being dragged out for all to see. Steven recognized the tip of the iceberg and (unlike many) pointed it out for what it was. Well done.

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