Parents have claimed that the reaction of a principal to Facebook bullying was ‘over the top’ in handing out suspensions to students who only Liked bullying posts: “One parent, Michelle Sharp, who said her daughter had been suspended, said she had ‘liked but never commented’, and accused Mr McConville of ‘seeking a great headline'”.
So is punishment when someone only Likes a post over-reaction? It seems to me there are two ways of looking at this. The first is to equate the action to the schoolyard outside the internet environment. If someone was being bullied and there was a crowd around cheering the bully on, I think we’d all expect them to hang their heads in shame. And we would expect the crowd to be punished too – whether that was a suspension or some other punishment would depend on the circumstances. That crowd is pretty much completely analogous to the Facebook Likers.
The second way of looking at it is that while the real-world analogy is pertinent, the act of liking is even more significant in the virtual world of Facebook. The bully was looking for Likes, and in making the conscious decision to Like a bullying post, the person doing the Liking is actively encouraging the bully to continue at the expense of the victim. They have overtly and consciously participated in the bullying. And they have done so on the record.
If you believe that part of schools’ responsibility is to help raise functioning members of society it is crucial that this sort of activity is stopped dead in the water. Reaction, for the sake of the bullied, and even for the sake of bullying child in the longer term, needs to be quick and unambiguous.
The students at Toronto High School weren’t suspended for Liking a Facebook post, they were suspended for participating in bullying classmates. Facebook was just the means chosen to do the bullying – and whether you equate it back to the real world or take it in its own context the bullying was wrong and cannot be tolerated.
Maybe more reactions like this in school would eventually lead to less social media bullying amongst adults too.
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