A student at Shawnee Mission East High School recently tweeted after a field trip to the capital her opinion about Governor Brownback. Part of Emma Sullivan’s tweet stated that she does not agree with the governor’s politics going so far to say Gov. Brownback sucks. Because the governor’s office closely monitors tweets and Facebook statuses where the governor’s name is mentioned, they found Sullivan’s tweet and notified Shawnee Mission School District. The school decided to take action of their own requesting that she write an apology letter to the governor. She originally agreed to write the letter, but has now refused to do. The school district has now decided not to no longer require Sullivan to write the apology letter. They have stated that this situation has brought about many teachable moments about using social media.
One question coming from this situation is: Should school districts be teaching students social etiquette for Twitter and Facebook?
When it comes to students with special needs, the answer is yes. Students with special needs want to be a part of Facebook and Twitter just like their school mates. Often times special needs students will behave or speak in ways that they see and hear their peers behaving and speaking without really understanding what is being said or why the behavior is happening. Because of the desire to be accepted, students will copy what their peers say on on Twitter and Facebook, too. If they see their friends putting someone down or cussing, they may join in without understanding how hurtful those comments really are or that the person they are putting down can read them . Teaching students how to behave and speak appropriately without cursing or being disrespectful about someone else’s beliefs should be part of social skills/life skills curriculum starting in middle school. (Students can join Facebook as young as 13 years old.) This includes what pictures should or should not be published.
Why should they be taught to be careful of what they post? On the news it is often heard that people have lost jobs or not been hired due to pictures posted on Facebook or twitter or because of opinions shared. Students have lost scholarships or not been accepted to schools due to tweets. What about free speech? Sharing an opinion is different that being disrespectful or causing an entity to lose respect from its counterparts or potential partners.
This also gives teachers the opportunity to teach about cyber-bullying. Why it’s wrong and what to do if it happens to you or a friend.
Many students with special needs will use a computer and need to be taught how to use popular social media. Part of what needs to be taught is the importance of knowing the people you friend on Facebook and what to share and what not to share to stay safe.
Many students with special needs do not understand that what is on the Internet lasts forever. Even if you delete it later, with the right know-how someone can still find that deleted post or picture. Teaching students that the same social skills that are important for face-to-face interactions are important for social media interactions can save these kiddos a lot of embarrassment and possible future harm.
Adding social media etiquette to social skills curriculum can make a big difference in a student’s future. Even students with mild disabilities need to be part of this important social skill’s lesson.