If you want to raise awareness among parents on the effects of social networks on their children, try passing a law like Missouri’s Senate Bill 45.
The new law is making it illegal for teachers to have private contact with students on any online site, including social networks. This makes the law unique, and is making waves nationally in the USA.
The pioneering clause in the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act is s. 162.069: Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a non-work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.
The law also requires school districts to develop written policies – by the end of the year – on appropriate oral and non-verbal personal communication, including the appropriate use of electronic media.
Senator Jane Cunningham, who sponsored the Bill, explains in an interview: ‘There is only one limited thing that we are prohibiting and that is private, hidden communication between an educator and student’. In another interview, she explains that teachers can still befriend students on Facebook or be in other Internet contact as long as the sites are open to administrators, parents, or others.
Perhaps as expected, the law has raised controversy over the effects on social networking sites on children and young people, what is appropriate and what’s not, enforcement of laws which regulate private communications, and the monitoring of online conduct (and ‘friends’). Online debate is also questioning whether the law infringes the US First Amendment, and whether it has the potential to become a new trend nationwide and worldwide.
Naturally, not all teachers were amused with this development. Missouri teacher Randy Turner is vociferous about it: ‘The signing of Senate Bill 54 continues the degrading of our profession and the only effect it will have is on teachers who have always followed the law and who would never dream of violating the sacred trust we have to teach children. We will eliminate students and former students from our Facebook lists.’
But how do you strike a balance between the positive effects of social media on education, including the trust children have in social media as a communication bridge with their educators, and the need to protect their well-being from predators? The same law which vies for children’s protection is also pulling down the same bridge which children could openly cross to talk to their educators.
Yet, it looks like public opinion might be largely in favour of what the law is trying to achieve. One main reason is that the law does not outlaw online communication. Teachers can still communicate with students, as long as the online contact is public. They can set up pages that are open to the public, with students being able to ‘like’ their page.
Whether or not the new law goes a step too far, the requirement for schools to draw up policies for online conduct, including the appropriate use of electronic media, is definitely a good step. It’s meant to address conduct on virtual spaces that have become a natural extension of our offline lives. And when it concerns the safety and well-being of children, it’s even more welcome.