Sweary tweet gets student expelled from school, but should his account have been monitored in the first place?

Andy Boxall
Sweary tweet gets student expelled from school, but should his account have been monitored in the first place?

An expletive-laden tweet has seen a student expelled from his high school in Indiana. Austin Carroll made the mistake of posting a fairly well-known phrase to his personal Twitter account as a joke, but it included liberal use of the third in George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” list. You know, the one beginning with F.

So how did his school find out? Did his teachers follow him, or was it thanks to a complaint made by a fellow student who was offended by the tweet?

Neither actually, as the school revealed it monitors all tweets made by students, and claims Austin posted the message in question during school hours via a school computer. He denies this however, saying it was made during his own time and on his own computer.

An article published in an online local newspaper suggests this wasn’t the first time Carroll had been in trouble for posting messages on Twitter that the school deemed “obscene,” or for other disruptions; proving there’s always more to this type of story than initially meets the eye.

Social network monitoring

However, his expulsion isn’t what’s interesting here — it’s the fact that the school actively tracks its student’s Twitter accounts, then acts on messages it deems inappropriate. Plus, if it tracks Twitter activity, does it also monitor Facebook and other sites too?

A wide range of tools for monitoring social networking activity are available, some of which primarily track a company’s brand and reactions to media campaigns, while others ensure athletes aren’t about to bring down the team or fix a future game.

Most of these work without password access to the accounts, and certainly in the case of Mr. Carroll, his Twitter account was publicly viewable.

While the thought of anyone “spying” on our online activities is unpleasant, is a school checking its students social networking activities always a breach of privacy or worse, our freedom of speech? Schools will no doubt argue that it’s not, and could potentially allow them to do some good, such as identify cases of online bullying or genuine illegal activity.

Schools — and employers too — are aware they can gain considerable insight into our personalities by seeing how we communicate online. It was recently revealed that the University of North Carolina has a section in its handbook recommending there be a designated person for checking sports team members’ online activities, and warns that other teachers may also be watching too.

Online etiquette training

Of course, watching publicly available activity is very different from requesting passwords to accounts, an activity of which Facebook takes a particularly dim view, but the two are linked in a one way — how we conduct ourselves online.

As our online lives become more complex and further entwined with our “real life,” especially for anyone at school or college, perhaps instead of spying on activities and waiting to pounce on a problem or alleged indiscretion, a preferable alternative should be for schools to educate about how to behave online.

Social media expert Dr. William J. Ward, A.K.A. DR4WARD, has long pushed for some form of social media etiquette training, primarily in the workplace, but his theories apply just as well to schools too.

If it was explained to young people — by someone who knows what they’re talking about and is independent from the school system — that posting everything that pops into their heads, no matter whether it’s a “joke” or not, isn’t always a good thing; then situations such as Carroll’s may not arise quite so frequently.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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