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When School’s and Facebook Privacy Collide

It’s not exactly breaking news that Facebook, twitter and social media in general have made a permanent place in our culture. Which is great. But, with all the exciting benefits of social media also comes a whole new crop of challenges. Especially when it comes to things like parenting, integrating social media in the workplace and of course implementing proper social media policies within our schools.

That last one is particularly important because the line between what’s ok and what’s inappropriate can sometimes be hard to see.  The responsibility of schools when it comes to monitoring social media sites is a shaky one. Yes, schools are integral in preventing and fighting cyber bullying, so they need to be watchful of what happens on social media sites. Right?

Well, this is where it gets tricky. Where is the line between monitoring a child’s online behavior and violating their privacy? Remember a few short weeks ago I wrote about a teenager who was expelled for Tweeting the F*** word? Judging by the comments of that post the general consensus seems to be that the school was way out of line in that case.

So I’m sure you guys are going to just love this.

In Illinois a 13-year-old middle-schooler was forced to let school officials browse through her private Facebook page. She’s not the only one whose Facebook page is being browsed by these school officials. She is however the only one whose mother, Pam, is speaking out against the practice

Pam’s daughter was forced to log in to Facebook by school officials so that they could go through her private messages and Facebook page. According to the school they needed to go through her page to verify the validity of rumors that were being spread about her. This way they could punish the people spreading the rumors accordingly.

So she was the victim, yet she was the one who was brought into the office and told she could not leave until she logged on to Facebook and allowed officials to go through her page.  Her mother called the school on it, but ended up dropping it for fear of making things more difficult for her daughter. “What a violation of my daughter’s privacy this whole episode was,” Her mother said. The incident took “a huge toll on my daughter, who ended up crying through most of the rest of the day and therefore missed most of her classes. She was embarrassed and very upset.”

But after hearing from her daughter that not only is the school continuing to do this to other students but that other parents are afraid to do anything about it, she decided to go public. She wrote about the whole incident on her personal blog and then had the story picked up by MSNCB.

As it turns out that isn’t the end of the story. The way I heard about the story was because her mom is actually a friend of mine on Facebook. It turns out that since going public the school has not only been harassing her daughter but going so far as to call her employer (being a public employee in an appointed position) to complain about her going public. This has now put her job in jeopardy.

All because the school was intent on violating a 13-year-old’s privacy. This is exactly the kind of behavior that can come from school administrators that keeps parents from speaking out and advocating for their children.

This is exactly why as parents, PTA members, teachers and administrators we need to seriously examine what is acceptable and what is not. Also, this is why we need to make an effort to support legislation that will help clearly protect our privacy when it comes to Facebook passwords and what we do online.

What are your thoughts on Facebook passwords and privacy laws?