It is a common complaint that kids simply do not understand the long-term consequences of their actions in the instant-gratification, tweet-this, post-that world they live in. We shake our heads and tut-tut at the underage girls who post risque selfies, complete with raunchy comments. We roll our eyes at the young men who post photos of themselves smoking questionable substances or send out status updates that brag about illegal activity.
When Facebook posts became important evidence in a rape case involving high school students, most in the over-18 crowd marveled at the degree to which those kids appeared not to understand the gravity of their activity on social media. Don't they know that stuff is out there forever? Don't they know anyone can see that? What on earth would make them think it was OK to post those photos or jokes? Adults everywhere made themselves feel better by proclaiming they were much smarter and more savvy than that. They understood how to use social media responsibly.
Of course, the Steubenville case quickly brought to light the degree to which people of all ages failed to grasp the reach and longevity of social media. Crude language and calls for violence filled the comments for groups such as "Castrate the Steubenville High School Football 'Rape Crew.'" The names of folks who "liked" an image on the group's Facebook page, which came from the castration in a bathroom scene, from the movie "Fight Club," are available for all the world to see, and have been since Jan. 4, 2013. Judging by their profile pictures, many of those folks are not hapless teenagers.
It does not matter whether you agree with those folks. It does not matter that they have a right to express themselves in that forum. The point I am making is that the evidence of a "like" potentially clicked at the height of emotion, and entirely on impulse, is still available to me and billions of other people more than a year later. It is possible some of those folks have softened their stance over that time. But they cannot go back and undo that "like."
A Facebook post apparently written by a science teacher at Parkersburg South High School - one which can easily be interpreted as deriding students who participate in the school's Gay-Straight Alliance club - has not stayed quietly within the borders of Wood County. Pink News, which bills itself as Europe's largest gay news service, Think Progress, and other websites have picked up on the story and made it international.
No matter the intent behind the message, it seems unthinkable, in hindsight, that anyone posting comments like those on the teacher's Facebook page would not have understood how they would be interpreted, and the uproar they would cause. It also seems unthinkable that anyone who takes seriously the responsibilities teachers have to their students would not have realized the harm that would be done to his relationship with his students when he published such a post.
Then again, his is not the first case of a teacher - or group of teachers - getting into trouble because they did not understand the consequences of posting on social media. A South Carolina eighth-grade teacher was suspended for a Facebook post in which she complained about having to pay for students' food stamps. A group of Florida elementary school teachers - elementary school! - got in trouble for a Facebook discussion in which one teacher called a student "the evolutionary link between orangutans and humans." A high school teacher in Pennsylvania was suspended for blogging about her students being "disengaged, lazy whiners."
Society has reached a point where, had those comments been posted on social media by other children, they might be labeled "bullying," and the students disciplined by the schools. There would then be a host of psychologists and media experts waiting in line to talk about the failure of society to teach kids responsibility, personal accountability and proper use of the evolving technology available to them.
Judging by last week's activity, we could all use a lesson.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org