Thursday, February 7, 2013

Coming to Terms with Digital Interactions and Communications

Creative Commons Photo courtesy of Haleyface
After some very hard work, the administrators and counselors at our school produced a Policy on Interactions and Communications which was recently shared with the school community.  Speaking for myself only, the task of devising such a policy at first seemed extremely daunting.  Like many schools we sought to address the hot issue of "bullying".  But at the same time were trying to address issues related to negative online behavior stemming from messaging, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.

How could a single policy encompass behavior as diverse as physical intimidation and "mean" online chat?
Certainly, we did not pretend we could or even should monitor all kinds of communication.  Also, usually school rules apply to behavior in the building or at sanctioned school activities.  However, a traditional approach does not suit online behavior.  And just as certainly, not all "mean" behavior qualifies as "bullying."  With new apps and forms of social media popping up every day, how could we write down rules today that would apply tomorrow?

Fortunately, after we had spent some time on our project, we realized that the school already had a wonderful template for organizing our guidelines: the Mercy values of human dignity, mercy. justice, service, and option for the poor.
For example, the value of "human dignity" helped us to to craft the following definition:

Hateful or derogatory speech is defined as written or oral communications 
intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a 
person or group of people.

Consequently, sharing with friends an uncomplimentary photo of a classmate or bashing an athletic coach on Twitter would both constitute attacks on human dignity.  Though neither behavior would probably be considered "bullying" or "hate speech", both clearly violate our policy as derogatory and degrading actions.

The values also served us well in presenting our new policy to the students.  Instead of stressing what they shouldn't do, we could called ourselves to live up to these find standards set by the Sisters of Mercy.  And fortunately we have many positive examples of individuals in our community exemplifying those qualities.

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