It seems like every time someone blinks, someone tweets. Social networkingsites are now being used by major news organizations and publications such asThe Washington Post and Time Magazine, and even the president hasa Twitter account. But during the school day, high school journalists are oftenexcluded from this trend.When social media sites like Facebook and Twitterfall victim to high schools’ internal filtering software, it can beparticularly unfortunate for students who work on publications, especially in anage where social media is sometimes referred to as the future ofjournalism.
“I think we under-utilize technology in school,” said WilliamWilcox, editor-in-chief of The Falconer at Virginia’s Fauquier HighSchool. “I think it would be a much more effective way to teach us how touse journalism.”
After he utilized social media sites to quickly circulate messages topeople on his own time, Wilcox realized how beneficial networking would be forThe Falconer.
“We would be able to drastically promote the paper,” Wilcoxsaid. “We could post a bunch of articles on Facebook. We could probablymore easily try to run an advice column too.”
Mark Webber, student newspaper adviser at Vidal M. Trevino School ofCommunications and Fine Arts in Laredo, Texas, finds lack of access to socialmedia sites very limiting. Since social media Web sites are blocked fromstudents at his high school during the school day, Webber felt the need toestablish a social online presence for his publication. He bought apay-by-the-minute phone that he stashes in the journalism classroom so hisstudents can post updates to Twitter whenever the school has breakingnews.
“We text our messages to Twitter,” Webber said.”I’ll pick students at random and ask them to send a tweet aboutwhat we’re doing right now. For example, Friday the newspaper held aHalloween costume contest for the school, and we tweeted about it.”
Webber said he recognizes the value of publications using social networkingfor promotion purposes and to get the word out. The newspaper’s Web siteaddress and its Twitter account name are included on the front page of eachedition. Administrators have not mentioned anything about the newspaper’sTwitter account, Webber said.
“I want to see if the school administration will contact meconcerning Twitter,” Webber said. “If they don’t thenI’ll assume it’s fine. If I see that the Twittering is going well,then my next thing would be to say ‘let’s see how we can takeadvantage of a Facebook or Myspace site for the paper.’ “
If his school allowed social networking access, Webber would constantly beable to link his students’ online articles to Twitter and Facebook ‘almost every publication out there is doing it, he said. It would also provide ahands-on way to educate his students about news media convergence ‘ thefusion of several media outlets into one.
“I want to get them used to the idea of it’s not somethingthat’s necessarily difficult to use, but it’s just part ofwhat’s expected of journalists nowadays,” he said. “A lot ofwhat we do is ethical behavior and I’d like to do be able to show anappropriate way to conduct yourself on Facebook, and how not to.”
Though sites like Twitter and Facebook are unavailable at Vidal M. Trevino,students are allowed access to blogging sites, as part of their classassignments.
“Everyone in the actual newspaper class has to blog a couple times aweek,” said Linda Rodriguez, one of Webber’s students. She saidWebber is teaching them to blog to highlight how journalism is going digital.”I think in the future we’re not even going to have newspapersprinted, it’s all going to be online,” she said.
Because blogging has helped her get used to the idea of social media,Rodriguez said she wishes she and her fellow newspaper staff members could haveaccess to more sites during the day. The sites would not only help them promotethe paper, but it would also be useful when writing articles.
“There’s an article in our paper about YouTube,”Rodriguez said. “It’s a student analyzing videos on YouTube, andcriticizing them, but the YouTube Web site is blocked, so we can’tactually look at the videos to see what he’s talking about.[Administrators] might think they are protecting us, but they are deterring usfrom learning more.”
Webber’s high school district will soon be revising the statecurriculum guidelines, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS),for English and language arts classes. A public hearing is scheduled in lateJanuary. Webber said he is hoping the revisions will include new convergingmedia elements like Web journalism. Once the new TEKS is complete, he plans onpetitioning administration to grant he and his students access to social mediaWeb sites during his journalism class.
“I would want to see if I could have one computer only that I couldhave access to, to go onto a social network site, and then from there we coulddo social networking,” he said. “I’d want to see how thatwould go over. It would be under my supervision, and everything I’m doingI’m trying to tie into educational goals. I could teach [the students]appropriate behavior for online uses.”
Having increased access to certain Web sites is particularly important toWebber because few students at Vidal M. Trevino have access to the Internet athome, he said.
“Getting the word out” is no longer limited to flyers and wordof mouth. Since the take-off of social networking between 1997 and 2006,promoting, marketing, journalism and education have taken on a whole differentmeaning, according to social media expert Meg Roberts, promotions associate forNew Media Strategies, a company that describes itself as the market leader insocial media marketing and measurements.
Around 2000, America was introduced to the first social networks and livejournals, like “Xanga” and “LiveJournal,” Roberts said,then Facebook came out in 2004 and Twitter emerged in 2006. But social media Websites expanded their footprint in the last two years when every company andpublication started trying to get on board because that’s where theiraudiences are looking, according to Roberts.
“It’s become the place that people go to find breaking newsbecause it’s instant,” Roberts said. “If you can put yourselfout there as a publication that has instant access to publishing, thenyou’re going to be ahead of the competition, and that’s so importantin this day and age as publications are competing with each other on andoffline.”
For many journalists, careers start at the high school level, when theystart building their reporting resumes. Making use of social media sites canopen up lines of communication between high school journalists and the adultmedia.
“Through social media, you get to network with not only people inyour own area, but people across the country,” Roberts said. “Neverbefore has a high school senior been able to jump on Twitter and engage with aprominent reporter from the New York Times.”
Roberts argues that if schools are concerned students will get on socialmedia sites to goof around, then it’s on the school’s shoulders toeducate them and show them how it can be used professionally.
Jen Tambellini, publications adviser at Old Mill High School inMillersville, Md., has a Facebook account for Old Mill’s yearbook, but canupdate and check it only from home.
“We have a Facebook page for our yearbook just to get the wordout,” Tabellini said. “We put lots of info out there ‘ and wehave a Web site where people can upload pictures. It’s actually becomereally useful. But sometimes, because the editor doesn’t get home untillate at night, we’ll go weeks without checking it because we can’tcheck it at school. That is what bothers me.”
She said that not only would it be a great way to get the word out quicklyabout book and ad sales, it’s also a big school, and social networking iswhere the kids are. But it would not be easy to get around the filteringsoftware used by her school.
Because of restrictions tied to federal technology funding, high schooladministrators are not in the position to grant students unlimited access to theInternet ‘ and social media sites can fall victim to schools’Web-policing.Old Mill High School uses a filtering software to get E-ratefunding, a program through the Federal Communications Commission. Greg Barlow,chief information officer for Maryland’s Anne Arundel County PublicSchools, said filtering software is used in the district because of theChildren’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law in 2000, whichrequires high schools to use filtering software to receive E-rate funding. Theschool’s software filters out depictions of visual obscenity and childpornography.
CIPA states, “The protection measures must block or filter Internetaccess to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmfulto minors,” according to the FCC’s Web site.
“We get funding through E-rate that can give you discounts ontelecommunications services, and if we don’t filter against inappropriatematerial on the Internet, then we are not able to get that funding,”Barlow said. “Funding is very important to us, as is protecting ourstudents from inappropriate material.”
Aaron Caplan, law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Calif.,said CIPA requires any library that accepts subsidies for its Internetconnection to use some kind of Internet filtering software. The question thenbecomes whether some filters are so overbroad that they cause free speechproblems.
“The statute doesn’t specify which kind of filter, but it hasto be something that blocks visual depictions of obscenity and childpornography,” Caplan said. “If [it] is a pretty good software thatfilters out obscenity, that would be constitutionally acceptable. If, on top ofthat, the school says there are certain other sites that they don’t likeand they don’t let [students] look at them, then there would be anargument [for teachers who want access].”
Caplan also compared Web sites accessed on school computers to books in aschool’s library. The school has authority to build its own collection oflibrary books, but its authority is limited. The school gets to decide whatbooks can and cannot go into the library, and most likely choose the books thatare most suited to educational purposes. But if the books are being removed fromthe collection for illegitimate reasons, it can be a First Amendment violation,which makes having access to particular Web sites during the school day anarguable aspiration.
“If we accept the analogy that the Internet is similar to the schoollibrary, when the school filters out specific Web sites, it is as if they areremoving them from the collection … they have to prove that they are doing sofor legitimate reasons,” Caplan said. “The school needs to have alegitimate reason for the filtering.”
With the Internet comes a new kind of learned behaviors, and learnednormative conceptions of privacy and regulation, said Will Creeley, director oflegal and public advocacy at FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights inEducation). And until it becomes more commonplace, high schools across thecountry will continue to have limited access to social media Web sites.
“A teacher could have said 10 years ago ‘no cell phones in aclassroom’ … but in 10 years they could say ‘turn your iPhones offand no Twittering in class,’ ” Creeley said. “The reassuringthing about all this is that in terms of the law, the First Amendment has provento be tremendously adaptable to every communication revolution it’s beenfaced with. So too will it adapt to social media, and all the various wonders ofthe Internet.”
According to Creeley, the general trend is increased regulation of schoolspeech, particularly when the speech is at the school during school hours andonline. But freedom of speech must always be the guiding consideration, hesaid.
While Mark Webber is hoping to gain access to Twitter and Facebook,Tambellini is hoping for more Internet access in general.
“Every year our art teachers can’t even pull up images to showin their art classes,” Tambellini said. “Any place where the kidsmight upload their photos is blocked. Everything is blocked. It’s prettycrazy. Anything with the word blog near it is blocked. If we’re supposedto be teaching them literacy in the digital age … why are we notteaching literacy in the digital age?”