An eighth-grade teacher, “friended” by her students on Facebook, now knows about their drinking, drug use and occasional cheating and plagiarism. “Must she report any of this to the school, the police or the parents?” a reader asks the New York Times’ Ethicist, Randy Cohen. He suggests the teacher start by warning their students about the lack of privacy online.
Strictly speaking, when these students gave her access to their Facebook pages, they waived their right to privacy. But that’s not how many kids see it. To them, Facebook and the like occupy some weird twilight zone between public and private information, rather like a diary left on the kitchen table. That a photo of drunken antics might thwart a chance at a job or a scholarship is not something all kids seriously consider. This teacher can get them to think about that.
She might send e-mail messages to transgressing students, noting their misdeeds and reminding them of their vulnerability. Or she could address her entire class, citing (anonymous) examples of student escapades. Or she could encourage her school to include a regular instructional session on the Internet and its pitfalls.
This is not to advocate turning a blind eye to bad behavior. It is to establish priorities. If a kid is in genuine danger, she should intervene swiftly.
Cohen also suggests warning cheaters that the next time they brag about it she’ll take action.
OK, readers, what do you think?