2 Nov 2012

"You never know when a future employer might read it..."

 Disclaimer: I may very well be reading too much into things here. In fact, I hope I am.

My school may or may not be reading my twitter feed. At least according to an assembly we've had today. Whilst I'm not going to lie and say that I wasn't slightly crapping myself at the prospect of them publicly bringing up my personal feed (a prospect they considered, apparently), and the idea of my school directly connecting my feed with me. Which also means I've Orwelled information in blogs that will probably identify me to them and pretty much no one else. This is actually one of the only (if not the only) time I've actively retracted stuff without a notice edited into the blog post at the very least, but the posts themselves are still up.

This is weird, considering that I use a pseudonym and I'm pictorially represented by my pet dog, so chances are I'm not the target audience of an assembly which seemed to partially revolve around the impact of having stuff tied to your real identity (even if a Google for my real name brings up my Twitter followed by a ton of petitions. I intend to partially resolve this by actually getting another twitter with my real name attached) - not to mention that, whilst I very much doubt they'll approve of my politics (and the guy giving the assembly made a point of bringing up the twitter joke that I probably Spartacused back when), unless they happen to be a member of The Activists I don't think I've actually posted much of the stuff they intend to block. Well, um, until this blog post. More on this a bit later.

I guess this in a way is for the best in terms of my future, even if a part of me feels like just posting xkcd 137 instead of writing this*, it is where the title came from after all. In a way perhaps it is better to hide behind a veil of anonymity when saying something controversial, and having that option available is good. Being aware of what, exactly, people can find out from your name alone is probably a Good Thing. Heck, I managed to write two blogs on the subject of "why don't I write (more)?" literally yesterday (as of writing this), and I never mentioned this in them.

Admittedly I know for a fact I took completely the wrong message from this, the right message being "if you wouldn't say something in public (IRL public, to someone's face) don't say it all", but maybe freedom has to include the freedom to be a dick? Of course, it also includes the freedom to call out dick headery. Freedom is freedom to say 2 + 2 = 5, but it's also the freedom to point out that no, 2 + 2 = 4.

Of course, mathematical mistakes are not in the same league as being an arse and posting disparaging, possibly nasty things about people (and also bigotry, but it's my understanding that the former is what the issue amounts to - I may be wrong there (I don't think anyone in my school is that stupid though)). Including teachers. I don't really know what the tweet was which actually set it off (or tweets plural), and chances are tweeting it was at the very least a dick move. Plus, maybe bringing up issues with the school is the best move, and not, say, writing a rant about it and posting it online. In addition to this, y'know the stuff I mentioned about knowing that your name is attached to something? It is possible that the tweets, in addition to being hurtful, could be attached to someone, and that could bring up issues later on.

At the same time, this really raises a number of concerns for me - admittedly in part from the libertarianism which seems to be almost instinctual to me (at the same time as socialism, I really need to get round to writing that post one of these days).

For starters, the school has to actively seek this stuff out. Going off stuff in the assembly, it's certainly implied that whatever they found objectionable they found by searching for information on twitter posted by students - not about teachers (this distinction is pretty important in my eye, it's the difference between finding out what everyone's saying about you, and finding it out by finding out everything that everyone's said recently). In addition to this, quite often I don't think it's possible for anyone not connected with whoever's being tweeted about to figure out anything really, and you will probably have to actively try to figure out what's being referred to. Unless it's sustained, which is admittedly it's own set of issues. Any such attacks are likely to be brief too - and most importantly not premeditated. I get the sense that when someone posts a mean tweet it's fundamentally different to, say, setting up a hate group on Facebook (this is the closest analogy I can think of, and I can certainly understand some sort of disciplinary action if it's brought to the attention of the school (these groups are often private, so actively looking for them strikes me as a fundamental violation of privacy)), since the latter requires active effort whereas the former requires about 10 seconds max. In a way, the best analogy I can come up with is gossip, but gossip to a few hundred people (which, actually, if you only post personal stuff, will probably be predominantly the sorts who would be Facebook friends. Sure, it's publicly available, but chances are no one gives a crap about what some random teenager tweets as long as they have the wisdom not to send nasty stuff to, say, an Olympic diver). It's not pleasant, and if you're the subject of it I can't say I could really argue against calling out whoever does it, but it's hardly the criminal matter that the school is presenting it as.

There's also the presumption of 'if you have an issue you can bring it up to us' . It excludes the possibility that people just want to vent. Again, see my point about it being almost gossip. The intent was almost certainly dickish, but it was to vent it wasn't to cause harassment, distress or alarm.It's a way of yelling into a void that occassionally yells back. I know that's what I sometimes use twitter for.

Furthermore, this means that there's an implicit intent to shut down criticism of the school and/or teachers. Criticism which cannot be directly connected to the school in all likelyhood. I have honestly never been so nervous about posting something just because it's critical of something my school (which I have never named because Jesus Christ that's web security 101 stuff) has done, and I have a vague bit of anonymity. It could prevent discussion of legitimate grievances that we might not feel comfortable with taking to the school about yet, or maybe we feel like they might not listen which, logical or not, I reckon we are well within our rights to do. Also 'ugh, I hate <subject>. <teacher> is such a dick' is blatantly not an active criticism meriting actual action (unless it's endemic across all pupils), it's a comment. An inane comment, which fundamentally wouldn't have much of an effect after about 20 minutes. I'm not even talking in the figurative sense meaning 'a really short time'. I mean literally 20 minutes (okay, sometimes up to around an hour or so). It'll still be on record, but it'll already have expired. And maybe people care enough to comment, but not enough to want to change things? Or they're scared for other reasons. I've definitely vented stuff on twitter that I couldn't talk about elsewhere, and I don't really like this option being closed to me.

The plans that I think that assembly implied (the message was basically "now this has been brought to our attention, this is our only warning and if you've tweeted anything dodgy...") also fundamentally misunderstand the nature of social networking and media. People made a massive shift from Facebook to Twitter over the past year (interestingly the Facebook assembly was much more geared towards potential employers and less worried about complaints about teachers), and chances the sort of comments my school wants to shut down? they're gonna be moved to some other platform. The cycle repeats again, and they can't keep an eye on everything we post on social networking sites. Except that's what they're trying to do. Also, considering they know about the #TwitterJokeTrial, have they really also never heard of #IAmSpartacus?

Anyway, whilst posting dickish tweets about teachers is, well, dickish, stalking us is not the answer. Trying to censor it won't work. The warning that makes up the title of this post is valid (although frankly I find the idea of employers spying on their employees at least as scary, and dodgy ethically), and maybe we do need to be more privacy aware, but conflating that with not moaning isn't the way to do it.

I can't say I know how my school will react to this. Maybe they won't know? Maybe they actually won't care? Maybe I'll get kicked out? It's pretty ironic that I'm mainly hoping for the first one, but to be frank I can't see the use in hiding away, although it occurs to me that at the very least I will have to get my school council rep to ask about what our school's social media policy actually is. I don't want to hold back because I'm scared of shaking things up.

Fuck. That. Shit."
Yeah, I am so getting excluded for this. Life, it was nice having you in a relatively non-ruined state.

See also:
Basker's World: Sticks and Stones - this one is especially interesting given that Baskers was publicly hounded by the Mail for her tweets. I find it odd that she wasn't brought up as an example, but it perhaps goes to show that there is still a bit of ephemerality to the response to twitter.
A Latent Existence: 
A Shiny World: 
Jack of Kent (this guy was the lawyer in the Twitter Joke trial case which was cited):
Cracked: 5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time

And a metric ton of other sites that I really am too tired to look for now.

There was also a lot of discussion about internet trolls about a year ago (which I actually find unbelievable no way has it really been that long?!), this post (and this section) is getting pretty bloated, and I think there is a bit of difference between what I'm talking about and actively sending stuff to whoever, but this New Statesman piece is probably a good start.

*I have to say I've read that one so much I actually remembered what number it was. Even if I sometimes thing it's 173, which is a cross reference from something completely different (and not actually a Weeping Angel rip off - it came out around the same time as the first ep with them in, EDIT: but slightly before, if I recall correctly).


  1. Wrong. Teachers have the right to work in an environment where they are not abused and undermined. Calling someone a dick is insulting and abusive. Whether you whisper it to your friend at the back of the class, tweet it or say it to the teacher's face it's still wrong. You do not have the right to abuse people.
    jennifer (msjenniferjames on Twitter)

  2. Also - how is calling someone a dick not criticism? It's not an inane comment. It's verbal abuse. The effects do not last just 20 minutes.
    When I was teaching I was called a 'slag' by a Y9 pupil. It was 13 years ago. I'm still humiliated by the memory, I'm still fuming about it - and I left teaching shortly afterwards. I hope you get expelled.

    1. No offence, but I kind of have to disagree with you equating calling someone something to their face and doing it online or in a conversation in real life. It's wrong in all cases (which is actually what I pretty much said), but by different orders of magnitude. Furthermore, I actually said I'm not opposed to a response when it's brought to a teacher's attention. What I'm worried about is the school actively trawling through the feeds of students to find something that's disagreeable, something which also strikes me as fundamentally undermining (to use my gossip analogy, it would be like trying to listen in on all your pals conversations to see what they say about you, rather than responding to something you over hear or even me trawling through your feed to find something to bring up (I haven't looked)).

      I suppose school is well within it's rights to do that (I have to concede this) but I have to say that I don't think it's morally right to. This goes double as, certainly in this school, teachers actually do have power over students which is an added complication to this (admittedly, I do now realise I should have addressed this in the main post).

      All this said, I am really sorry about what happened to you (no one deserves to go through that and, believe it or not, I have been in similar situations myself, and actually have been directly called a 'slag' on twitter on at least one occasion), and I'm sorry that what I said hurt you. However, I do still stand by what I said for the reasons I outlined above.

    2. I'd just like to add now (after a delay due to a computer crash), that I must also apologise if I've been lacking in empathy anywhere. I say I've been in similar situations, but they might not really be the same.

    3. You have the right to express your opinion, but you don't have the right to be abusive. Noone does. To say you are unhappy in a lesson is fine, to say you don't like the subject is fine. To openly publish that someone is a 'dick' is abusive, insulting, undermining - and libellous. How did it make you feel when you read the 's**g' tweet? How do you think your teacher felt when they read the 'dick' tweet? I'm sure your friends think you're hilarious, a real hero. I don't.
      I've worked in schools and seen teachers bullied and humiliated by pupils. Conversely I've known teachers who bully and humiliate pupils. They all need to be chucked out of schools. Zero tolerance. The only 'them' and 'us' is decent people and abusers. Decide which side you want to be on.


    4. Jennifer, how is "I hope you get expelled" not abuse? Perhaps you should take a look at yourself.

    5. Um, I've never actually made that sort of tweet. Definitely not about my teachers. Maybe the PM, but that's it. Really.

      Coupled with your tweet, I think you're assuming that I a. defend the right to make repeated comments about this (I'm talking comment. singular, maybe a few, but not part of a huge pattern) I even specifically state that when it's sustained it's completely different ("Unless it's sustained, which is admittedly it's own set of issues"), and b. that I'm defending my own actions in doing this. I've not made any like this. I probably should have made it clearer, but my main issue is the school trawling through all our tweets (which is certainly implied) when I've been treating twitter as a 'safe space' as such specifically a place where school isn't stalking so I can talk about personal stuff. Maybe I need a better public/ private split or something, but it still slightly scares me.

      Frankly, it seems like you're slightly strawmanning my arguments to your own ends, and this, coupled with remarks about how you 'hope [I] get expelled' when I'm really not sure how much you know me, is actually pretty hurtful.

      If you can at least show me examples of why I deserve that (beyond hypothetical tweets that I made up as examples), it'd help a bit.

      Also for what it's worth, I felt like crap when I read the tweet, and I did comment about it, but I also blocked it and moved on. I don't constantly think about it. I can't even really remember the name of the account which made it. It's not like they wrote entire paragraphs on why I'm a bad person or owt like that.

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  4. "I hope you get expelled."

    For musing about other people making comments? That seems vindictive and nasty, and shows a desire to punish someone for thinking about the situation. Not a comment worthy of a teacher or an ex-teacher.

  5. Oops. Hadn't realised the tweet was hypothetical, my apologies and of course I take back the 'I hope you get expelled' comment. It was my misunderstanding and I apologise, really. I am sorry I upset you :-(

    Twitter is not private you have to remember, NONE of the internet is. It's used by everyone, teenagers don't own the rights to it! If I was teaching and I got wind of pupils tweeting stuff about me, I'd certainly investigate. If the tweets were rude or disrespectful I would absolutely pass it on up AND send letters home to parents.

    And if I was your mum I would DEFINITELY want to be talking to you about this stuff. Maybe the school has found some things you've written that you hadn't expected them to and you are worried about it? If so - perhaps have a word with her, show her these blogs? That is what mums are for. :-)

    Best wishes


    1. Apology accepted. I'm not even sure if the school's reading this, or if they know who I am (I have actually been quite careful since I do understand the need for privacy, and, ironically, I've felt the need to reduce it but in a way disconnected from my main feed).

      I think my issue in the start paragraph is more that I actively choose to share things with people on that platform, not to have it brought up in assembly. I'm not even sure what they could bring up, and I think I do actually have slight paranoia issues, but it's also made hard as I don't think 'public' and 'private' is a binary, but rather a continuum. Twitter's definitely close to the public end (I might use a full blog as the top end of that, I'd say it ranks between a Facebook Fan Page/Group and a private Facebook Page). I think everyone sort of tries to compartmentalise, which makes for a shock when things move from one 'compartment' (Twitter) to another (like Real Life). I think this effect might also be related how one of the 'tumblr rules' is basically 'thou shalt not share anything on here with Facebook, lest you face the fires of a thousand suns' (speaking of this, school, if you're reading this, tumblr is *not* a bag of worms you want to open).

      And I think my mum will probably just end up being (or at least *acting*) worried about a hypothetical career in the Conservative Party. Even though I'm, er, not a conservative and she supposedly hates them.

  6. ALL mums are afraid of that, Lissy. *shudders*.


    PS Your writing is EXCELLENT have you considered journalism? Best route is do a degree you love (PPE?), followed by NCTJ course and, of course, keep writing.

    1. I have briefly entertained the journalism thing, but I'm not sure. I think I'd rather stay in an amateur capacity.
      Also, my mum's actually worried (or at the least feigns worry) that I'll mess up said hypothetical career. Even though she still hates the Tories. It's really weird.