Principal’s anti-Facebook plan: Is banning Web sites the fix?

By Anne Collier

It was an interesting pair of education news stories to break in a single week: a principal urging his students’ parents to ban their kids’ use of Facebook and the Teacher of the Year being honored for teaching with, among other things, Facebook (see this). In an email to parents, Anthony Orsini, principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgeway, NJ, said that “the main problem is that tweens do not have the resilience to withstand internet name-calling,” CNN reported. He may have a point about child development and the intense dramas of middle school life, but does banning a single Web site or two address the problem (see this for some alternatives)? “The last straw” for Orsini, CNN says, was Formspring, which he called “a scourge.” Instead of suggesting the banning of it (kids find workarounds, such as, Orsini should check out a survey of 10,000 middle school students in his own state which found that the vast majority had not bullied their peers, but “a majority were also convinced that their own nonbully status was an exception to the norm,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. “To reduce the amount of bullying that does exist, that misperception needs to change,” said the study’s authors, David Craig and H. Wesley Perkins of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (here are their slides for a 2008 talk they gave on this social-norms approach, including school posters illustrating it).

In his blog post on Orsini’s move, social media researcher Ira Socol writes, “Bullying, in my view of the world, is not a ‘kid issue,’ but an adult-created environmental issue. As studies have shown, schools typically make bullying worse, and more acceptable – not the opposite.” Increasingly, experts from psychologists to risk prevention practitioners are saying that the solution has to be a whole-school approach (see “Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying: Whole-school response is key”). Some good things that have come out of the New Jersey story: 1) kids and parents talking about it, thinking out loud together about what’s right for them (this must be true, right?) and 2) the potential for growing public awareness of sites’ terms of service and the potential for growing public discussion about how or whether sites enforce them. [See also “Let’s not create a cyberbullying panic” at CNET by my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid.]

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