Sunday, September 10, 2006

My blogging fear

All of the reasons I originally gave for blogging anonymously are sincere, but I left one out: teenagers. Not a fear of roving groups of teenagers, as I have read on other blogs.* 7th and 8th graders. Specific 7th and 8th graders. Who are no longer 7th and 8th graders (unless they've done very poorly in school since I left).

One of the reasons it took me so long to start my own blog was a slight aversion due to all the grief they caused me as a teacher. For a long time, I was concerned about how my students might be using the internet, including blogs, but somehow avoided any situations that required my action. Around the time an article came out that covered the range of awful things happening on the internet, we ended up with our own junior high name-calling problem.** I was made aware of this as a low-level administrator, but did not have to do anything specific at the time.

I also was given the name of the Live Journal where the original insults appeared. Which led right down the rabbit hole (to borrow a phrase from HBM). Since it would be unthinkable for students to maintain a blog without an extensive list of 'friends,' it was quite easy to move from blog to blog. Some students used their names in the title; sometimes names appeared in the comments. Even if they were fairly careful with names, I could figure out the owner of a blog in under five minutes. At this point, the goal was minor surveillance.

But it didn't take long before several posts showed up that suggested the adults needed to step in. More insults, including a rather virulent strain aimed at a particular student, and several students who seemed to be putting themselves in bad situations with significantly older students. There was direct intervention where necessary, but we also decided to split the 7th and 8th graders into small groups to discuss the internet.

I suspect that some of the other group leaders emphasized the 'danger' aspect: sexual predators could be targeting you with the information you put out there. While I certainly wanted my students to be aware of such an issue, it tends to fall on deaf ears. Besides, it didn't get to the heart of why we were having the discussion. So instead, we talked about the permanence of what one puts out on the web and that it's impossible to completely get rid of it. I gave the example of an old email I found when I googled myself once; it had been sent to a professional list and, luckily, was nothing to be embarrassed about, but it had shocked me to find it posted on a website with open access. But I could tell they were thinking about finding certain of their emails randomly in the ether. The other teacher in the room pointed out that colleges and companies have been known to reject candidates or rescind offers based on what they find via a search. As this was a very college-oriented group, that had an impact.

The students' perspective was interesting. The most common complaint I heard was that it was creepy to find out teachers had read the blogs. In fact, this point came up not only in that group, but also in other situations where students spoke to be about what had happened (I was an approachable teacher, so they felt they could talk to me, even though I admitted to having read some of the blogs myself). The counterpoint, of course, is reminding them that their blogs had public access. Moreover, I always thought it was creepier to think about random perverts reading their blogs than adults they knew and, ostensibly, could trust.

One student, a popular girl who was very savvy about social issues, if not the smartest in her class, posed the most thoughtful question: If all of this stuff you're saying is true, then why are adults doing it? Why aren't they thinking about what they put out there?

I paused briefly, probably sighed deeply, and then said, "You're absolutely right. There are a lot of adults out there who put stuff on the internet without giving it a second thought. I know that I send emails all the time without thinking about their permanence. A big part of the problem is that this technology is so new that even most adults haven't thought it through. And so they haven't quite figured out the consequences. Obviously the internet isn't going away and there is so much about it that is convenient and useful, but we're all still learning."

So this is yet another reason I blog anonymously: I'm trying to follow the same advice I once gave my students. Whenever I put something out into the ether, I imagine one of them coming across it. The last thing I would want is for them to squeal with delight and say, "Look! It's Miss Mouse's blog." Because, yes, it would be a little creepy.

*Amalah's is not the only blog where I've seen this, but I couldn't find the others easily.

**As far as I know, the teachers and administration never found the sort of sexual stuff from the article in our school, though they did turn up a bunch of high school students who posted pictures of themselves drinking.

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