Do anonymous social media posts alleging offenses by students help or hurt school communities?

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Intro Video

Interest in this topic

This topic is of interest to me because last summer students at my high school launched and were very active on an Instagram account where various allegations of misconduct were posted. These were seen by many and generated many comments. On the account, sometimes students posted under their names but the other times the posts were anonymous. Some posts named the students being accused while others described a situation without naming anybody. Some students who were called out responded or their friends responded and this created conflict and divisions in the senior class and the community as a whole. Other students did not feel comfortable responding at all.

Summary of the Problem

A significant problem is that when people post anonymously but name others, it can be very difficult for someone who has been called out to prove they didn’t do what they are alleged to have done. In some cases, social media sites like these can also lead to a sort of mob mentality where finding the truth and improving the community are almost impossible and students can be harmed, even when the initial idea of the site was a good one. It is important that students can tell a story and raise conversations about serious issues, but the conversations must allow for due process to occur. A well-designed system that works well will help find the truth, consider all sides, and promote improvement within communities.

Description of Project

My project would be to consider rules or guidelines around whether accounts or allegations could be anonymous, whether there should be consequences for any false statements, and how to allow a space for people to respond, admit, and apologize for mistakes, and then have some reconciliation and healing. Not all of that happened in the social media storm that happened with students at my school last summer. I wonder whether there are ways to set up “rules of the game” to promote the truth, ensure due process, and help the community.

Interview

For the interview portion, I chose to interview my dad; he is a teacher so he can speak to the idea that social media is changing how people act in school and the classroom. From our interview, we came up with this summary which we feel does a good job explaining what we talked about:

Unless there is a clear set of rules and guidelines in place about student comments on social media, anonymous social media posts alleging offenses are more likely to hurt school communities than help them. If there are no rules or guidelines, there is too great a chance that anonymous comments will include false statements and will name specific students who will have no ability to respond to refute the false statements. Without rules, those making anonymous claims do not have to face any accountability or fear any negative consequences for themselves or for their false statements. Without rules, there is also too great a chance that anonymous comments can create a mob mentality among accusers so that even if the allegations raised are true, students who have made mistakes do not have space to respond, admit, and apologize for mistakes, and then have some reconciliation and healing because people who might respond will correctly think the mob may attack them without consequences if they do. 

But if social media posts are not anonymous, social media posts alleging offenses by students can help school communities by opening conversations about serious issues. Similarly, if there are rules or guidelines specifying consequences for false statements, and requiring due process and opportunities for responses and apologies, social media posts alleging offenses by students can help school communities.

Tree Diagram with possible Outcomes

Justification of Diagram and of Ratings

The tree diagram shows eight possible outcomes when there is a social media posting alleging offenses by students in a school community. It also shows three variables that can contribute to those different outcomes: 1) whether the social media posts are anonymous 2) whether they contain lies or only the truth and 3) whether people accused of wrongdoing feel safe to respond.

Some of the eight outcomes shown are helpful to school communities because they bring about conversations raising serious issues and the conversations follow a fair process leading to truth and improvement in the school community. For example, outcomes C (rating of 85) and G (rating of 100) are the most positive outcomes. Other outcomes are likely to be unhelpful or hurtful, such as outcome B (rating of 0) and F (rating of 10), because they are more likely to involve lies or other false claims and those accused don’t feel safe to respond, so the truth is absent and improvement in the school community is unlikely to occur.

On the diagram, I have assigned a numerical rating for each of the eight possible outcomes.

One conclusion to draw from this tree diagram is that it would be helpful for school communities to set up clear rules (or “rules of the game”) that make the positive, helpful outcomes more likely than the negative, harmful outcomes. Specifically, where possible, school communities should limit anonymous allegations and create negative consequences for anyone lying or making false accusations. They should also set up practices that encourage students against whom allegations are made to have a safe space in which to respond.

How exactly those rules would work will probably vary from school to school, but the analysis here shows that where it is possible, it is best for social media posts alleging offenses by students not to be anonymous, to be truthful, and to allow a fair opportunity for other students to respond truthfully to the allegations.

Document with outline and work cited:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lZTFjpyYim4qJBC58KIwoondmnAh2sgVt28iKPQ8fIw/edit?usp=sharing

1 Comments

1 comment

  1. Hi Eli, I thought your project was well thought out and informative. I also thought that your decision to use a sequential game makes quite a lot of sense in this context. However, I do wonder how the game would affect those posting and those who are seeing these posts differently, especially in instances you laid out where lying occurs. Perhaps in these situations, they would actually gain more utility by being able to spread more juicy gossip?

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