Media: let’s humiliate some teens for Tweeting about their teacher!

When the story’s on Twitter, young offenders’ names can always be found

Local media on the scene. "you make it look like someone got killed!" tweeted one student.

I’m a 35 year old man, so one thing I probably shouldn’t be doing on a weekday morning is reading the dirty tweets of Catholic school girls. But I did, because I was curious about mysterious messages that have been deemed worthy of breathless news coverage.

Thanks to at least 11 news organizations, I learned that a group of Brampton, Ont., teens said nasty things about their teacher on Twitter. I learned that no criminal charges have been laid, but that the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board has seen fit to suspend nine of these students, some for a week, others for just two days (how does this work? Is re-tweeting a lesser offense than tweeting?  Does “favouriting” just get you detention?). The content of the tweets has not been published by the media, nor, of course, have the names of the young tweeters been released.

But I found them anyhow. I wasn’t trying to—just wanted to know what was said. And once you start digging around on Twitter (creepin’, as the kids put it) you find things out. I found out that one girl, who cares passionately about makeup, boys, and getting marks of 90 or higher, was angry with her science teacher for berating the class about their poor performance on a lab test. I was amused at the colourful language she used to describe this teacher, by the misfortunes she wishes would befall her, and by the equally spirited comments made by her supportive friends.

There was other stuff too, other teachers and other comments, but I will not link to any of it, because I have since decided that it was wildly inappropriate for me to be reading any of it, and I want to spare you the icky feelings I now have for having creeped. Most of all, I want to spare these teenagers from further scrutiny, exposure, and public shaming. The real shame is that we are talking about them at all.

I read nothing this morning on Twitter that I didn’t hear about teachers, or say about teachers, when I was a teenager. I wasn’t any more cautious, private or respectful than these kids—I just didn’t have Twitter. If I did, my casual whining about teachers might have left me on the hook for libel or defamation charges, or for disciplinary action. Minors who are unaware of the difference between a public forum like Twitter and a private medium like, say, instant messaging need to be taught the difference, and it’s appropriate for administrators at St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School to take this opportunity to do so.

It’s entirely another matter for the media to be reporting on this, or for the school board to be cooperating with them by providing quotes. However careful officials and reporters may be not to name names, an hour of Twitter forensics will easily reveal the students in question.

These kids erred by exposing their teacher to public abuse in front of a small group of their peers. Now they have in turn been as good as exposed themselves, by their own educators and by the media, to a potential audience of millions.

So who’s the cyberbully now?

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown




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Media: let’s humiliate some teens for Tweeting about their teacher!

  1. 11 news organizations are on this???

    Honest ta gawd, you’d think there was nothing important to report on in this country!

    No wonder people aren’t paying for news anymore….it isn’t worth having.

    • Part IV. Of the Kingdom of Darkness.

      Chap xlvii. Of the Benefit that proceedeth from such Darkness

      [21] For from the time that the Bishop of Rome had gotten to be acknowledged for bishop universal, by pretense of successsion to St. Peter, their whole hiearchy (or kingdom of darkness) may be compared to the kingdom of fairies (that is, to the old wives’ fables in England, concerning ghosts and spirits and the feats they play in the night). And if a man consider the original of this great ecclesiastical dominion, he will easily percieve that the Papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof. For so did the Papacy start up on a sudden out of the ruins of that heathen empire.

      [23] The fairies, in what nation soever they converse, have but one universal king, which some poets of ours call King Oberon; but the Scripture calls Beelzebub, prince of demons. The ecclesiastics likewise, in whose dominions soever they be found, acknowledge but one universal king, the Pope.

      Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.

      • -

        Wednesday 13 – Bad Things

        A bullet in your head is how I want it
        Your body on the floor — a Kodak moment
        You’re a waste of air and a waste of space
        I want sharp objects to fly into your face
        I hate you now more than I ever did
        I wanna kill you, dig you up and do it again
        I want a car to run over your head
        Put it in reverse and do it again

        And I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t true
        I only want bad things to happen to you
        I want bad things to happen to you
        I want bad things to happen to you
        I want very bad things to happen to you

        It would be really great if you drowned in a lake
        Or put a bag over your face and watched you suffocate
        I’d celebrate at your wake, I’d bake myself a cake
        ‘Cause you’re my favorite person that I love to hate
        And you’re the reason that murder should be legalized
        If it was, you’d be dead and in the ground by five
        Just in case I forgot to say –
        I hate you motherphucker in the very worst way

        And I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t true
        I only want bad things to happen to you
        I want bad things to happen to you
        I want bad things to happen to you
        I want very bad things to happen to you

  2. 11 news organisations; and how many others filling column inches whining about it, Jesse?

    You piece reeks of apologetics and double standards.

    It isn’t inappropriate for anybody to read any twitter, once it’s out there it’s public information. If folk don’t want anybody to read what they really believe don’t write it down and send it over the web. Your insistence that these minors (Grade 12)) don’t know the difference between the public and private nature of internet communications beggars belief.

    At 17/18 I would expect students to be able to accept criticism in lab without getting all pouty and pissy and whining to their equally as pouty and pissy friends on a publicly accessible forum. The fact that they are incapable of that is a sad indictment of our society. In a years time they could be drafted, they have the vote and they will have to accept all the responsibilities of adulthood; who are they going to pout and whine to then? And if they try it on twitter then libel and legal remedies could be a solution and an abrupt awakening to the reality that too many have ill prepared them for.

    This suspension will probably have some beneficial effects if the minors who will soon be majors are smart enough to appreciate the lesson. As it’s probably their first experience of such a set back i doubt it, but one can hope.

    • No one’s arguing that the students shouldn’t have been suspended, least of all Jesse, who explicitly stated that it’s entirely appropriate for the school’s administrators to teach these kids a lesson.

      However, if you think that this story is worthy of national news coverage from coast to coast then I have to say that I think you’re off your rocker. If less than a half dozen students getting suspended from one high school, for a week or less, for tweeting mean things about their teachers is this newsworthy then we must have very few problems in Canada indeed! Plus, if this story was worthy of exposing the students to national ridicule then that certainly bodes well for the job market for journalists. I presume that news organizations from coast to coast are going to have to start hiring new reporters to cover the all-important high school discipline beat. Imagine the hay that could be made from a student doing something worthy of actually being expelled!!!

      • With cyber bullying being a hot topic and the Conservatives killing the national strategy on bullying proposal today, I would say that this has more relevance to the nation than the issues surrounding getting a horse into a hotel… but this esteemed organ thought that worthy of covering

        • Well, I certainly agree that cyber-bullying is a hot topic worthy of media coverage.

          That said, exposing some local teenagers to national ridicule is certainly an interesting way to address it. I suppose the nation’s media have certainly demonstrated just how easy it is in the modern age to expose young people to scorn and rhetorical abuse.

          • Not just the young and not just the media either.
            Hopefully all involved have learned how easy it is to pillory folk without taking into account the law of unintended consequences.
            Going public with your opinions means that the public get to see your opinions. Once it’s out it belongs to everyone and the intertubes never forget a thing.

          • That’s right, and they’re U.S. citizens entitled to the same freedom of speech all of us adults should be willing to fight to uphold.

          • When you come off your meds your reading comprehension suffers.
            When did the US annex Brampton Ontario?

          • how is this not cyberbullying, by the educators?

            teacher leave those kids alone… you’re so goddamn interested in what your students are saying about you that you follow their teenage tweets? Really, thats why you follow those underage girls? To attempt to be their parent?

          • Really…where does it say the teachers pursued this?

          • The mainstream, drive-by media is losing the strangle grip on the flow of information because of the internet, their tactics of narrowly focused narratives and deliberate exclusion of facts is driving them into irrelevance.

        • This whole “cyber bullying” narrative is nothing more than Orwellian doublespeak to soften the public up for censorship.

          The mainstream, drive-by media is losing the strangle grip on the flow of information because of the internet, their tactics of narrowly focused narratives and deliberate exclusion of facts is driving them into irrelevance.

      • I’m certainly arguing they shouldn’t have been suspended.
        Sat down and spoken to at length, sure.
        Taught proper use of their technology to limit exposure, of course.
        Told they don’t have a right to a personal opinion they share amongst friends, don’t be bloody daft.

        • Sure, everyone has a right to their personal opinion, but there’s no unfettered right to threaten people online.

          Sure, the police ultimately decided that criminal charges were not warranted, but some of the tweets were serious enough for police to get involved in the first place. We haven’t actually seen all of the tweets of course, but I don’t think it’s necessarily daft to presume that suspension could have been a perfectly reasonable response to the students tweets on the continuum between “you did nothing wrong” and “you’re under arrest”.

          • all it took for the police to become involved was the teacher calling up and whining that some girls were being mean to her.
            the police later concluded that in fact the girls had not crossed the line into criminal harassment.
            the teacher is the problem in this case

          • Publishing in a public forum about your teacher that “I hope her wedding burns down” may not be criminal, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that it’s not suspension worthy.

          • The police are forced to be involved in a lot of nonsense. Just the fact that the school called them meant they had to respond. So saying the police were involved in no way supports an argument that they did anything wrong.

            And no, they didn’t do anything wrong that should’ve resulted in what we’ve seen.

            It should’ve been dealt with personally and with care.

            You don’t teach kids to do the right thing by bullying, embarassing or penalizing them publically for something like this.

            You can’t teach responsiblity in this manner.

            And I don’t mean “you can’t” as in “you shouldn’t”. I mean precisely that you will fail with this method entirely.

          • As to the publicity surrounding this, I COMPLETELY agree, but that’s on the media, not the school or the teachers.

            As I said elsewhere, the media publicly embarrassing them is, as Jesse points out, completely inappropriate. However, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that a student who publishes in a public forum about her teacher that “I hope her wedding burns down” isn’t deserving of a short suspension to think about what she’s done.

          • Okay, I can’t convince you then.
            However, I might point out that these girls likely (and stupidly) believed they were talking amongst themselves and their friends.
            I have long had the misfortune of hearing too much of the gossip of my much younger sisters, cousins and a daughter.
            If that gets your hair up, I don’t know what to tell you! LOL

          • Sure, but when you publish something for all the world to see I’m not sure that “I didn’t realize that the whole world could see that” is a defence per se.

      • If you care about children and teachers I think it is worth knowing.

    • I have not read the tweet but I can tell you that I have been bullied by students and there have been cases of teacher suicides due to this kind of abuse – I am nothing but kind, supportive and encouraging to my students and I am often the object of horrible abuse that in some cases affects my ability to work and my career – can you see how this might be more than trivial?

  3. kids often make rash decisions without always spending time to think their way through — suspending or otherwise punishing girls who share their thoughts ignorantly online for all the world to see — opposed to ‘locking down’ your twitter account, so only followers you’ve accepted can see is stupid — especially if you’re into posting threats… not protected under the Bill of Rights — any rational-thinking person would assume you intend to carry them out… school teaches you to sit down, shut up, and follow orders. All dogmatic rules are wrong. Freedom of speech off school property. Deal with it, educators. The most important thing about free speech is being able to say it without repression.

    • in canada, we don’t have freedom of speech legislation. and even if we did, it would be freedom to say what you want, not freedom to say what you want without consequences.

  4. The key word or part thereof in all of this is: TWIT. That someone would presume their random little thoughts even remotely interesting – and that others would even bother to pay attention, is to me somewhat appalling. I spend 8 – 12 hours in front of a screen per day, at work and then home, and the furthest thing from my mind is wasting a single minute of it on something like twitter or facebook for that matter. I have better things to ‘follow’.

    - and in case you’re wondering, I’m on my break.

    • Yes, well, these kids thought like you, ie “whose going to care if I tweet to my friends about my idiot teacher? It’s private”.
      Except of course it wasn’t. Personally I should think these kids had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and it was violated.
      Just because I say something to a buddy in a coffee shop (public place) and some people decide to eavesdrop and repeat it everywhere, doesn’t give people the right to lambast me over it, if it was a personal comment on my perceptions of someone else’s behaviour.

      • If someone eavesdropped on a conversation you were having then it is instantly third party information and a he said/she said issue. I work in IT so please don’t have any assumptions about my knowledge of privacy where the internet is concerned. If 18 year olds don’t know any better in this day and age regarding online privacy then they’ve been living under a rock. They publicly PUBLISHED their comments, and anybody with half a brain knows that ANYTHIING posted online has the potential to become public, regardless of any privacy policy.

        But having stated my piece, I completely agrre with you on the ridiculousness of the situation. A real non-issue considering the other more important thing going on.

        • Fair enough, but honestly, the list of idiocies perpetrated by teenagers would surely fill more pages than the bible. Is anyone honestly surprised by the behaviour? Can’t most people think of examples of their behaviour within that age period that equate?

          The only real thing that’s changed is the interconnectedness of our society, the true import of which is likely to be completely lost on that age group.

          I can guarantee you they didn’t see, or likely even understand it, as “publishing” anything.

          It is precisely within the psychology of that age group to be narccisistic and completely incapable of thinking outside their own little world.

          While I think its obvious that we need to point these things out to them and teach them the effects of their behaviour in numerous ways, the way the adults in the situation have reacted is in fact likely to reinforce their schemas about the world of adults.

          • I see your point. Hair and makeup would definitely be the order of the day. I think what possibly incensed me somewhat is the general lack of regard for what people post about others that they would never say to their faces for fear of some form of retribution, and then the lack of responsibility regardless of how damaging it may be. Take this situation into the context of them talking about another student and you have another poor kid committing suicide.

          • Adults would act differently if careers were not negatively impacted by this kind of gossip. Sadly, teenage evaluations of teachers are taken seriously.

  5. Honstly, how ridiculous is this situation?

    Oh my god, some teenage girls were gossiping after hours about their teachers! Never heard of such a thing. Honest! (cough)

    This was a “teaching moment” utterly abused and blown up beyond recognition.

    The over reaction and poor behaviour of all the supposed “adults” is the real problem here.

    I mean good grief people.

    • they teaching moment came in the form of suspension. now these kids know not to say stupid things in a public forum, and/or to lock down private information. they’re lucky it wasn’t naked pictures or libel they got in trouble for. and even if one young person who hears about this story locks their twitter account, it’s a success.

      • you sound fat, and like a teacher.
        /glad i finished high school before it was taken over by a bunch of sissies.

        • I am glad I don’t teach high school.

      • For more than fifty years now we’ve known that negative reinforcement doesn’t work.

        Beating a child down in whatever form merely teaches anti-social tendencies and undermines respect for authority.

        The best it can be said to do is create false compliance in which the child forms strategies for deceiving.

        Is that what we’re aiming for?

        • I was raised on negative reinforcement and I am fine.. more than fine ..

    • When the fairies are displeased with anybody, they are said to send their elves to pinch them.

      The ecclesiastics, when they are displeased with any civil state, make also their elves, that is, superstitious, enchanted subjects, to pinch their princes, by preaching sedition; or one prince, enchanted with promises, to pinch another.

      Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994.

  6. You’re right. You shouldn’t.

    In other news. there’s random serious news about people dying in other countries going on.

  7. The research done on and written up in other publications lays out the schoolboard’s story.There is a dearth of suitable research done by news organizations.Kids are 80% right. Period

  8. And you too make a news column out of it…Oh but also implicitly encourage other wannabe ‘creepers’….hey now I too want to know what things were said!

    At least the other media were not hypocritical in their actions. Just wow.

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