Last week the Atlee girls softball team was disqualified from the Junior League World Championships after a picture of the team flipping off their opponents was discovered on Snapchat. The Mechanicsville, Virginia team is made up of girls ranging in age from 12-14 years old. Holding the team accountable is understandable, but before you say they deserved it, think about this.
When kids turn 12, or sometimes even before, their parents hand them a phone. The phone, which will be used for everything but to call someone, comes with little or no instruction. Parents are unaware of what kids do on their phones, leaving schools to deal with the cyberbullying, sexting, and other social media problems that stem from phones. How do schools handle these mistakes? They deal with online mistakes punitively. The Little League has followed in the footsteps of scores of schools across the country by punishing the players who crossed online boundaries.
Instances of cyberbullying, sexting, and criminal charges are only increasing which indicates that what schools, parents, and communities are doing does not work. Punishment doesn't work, but education does. We must educate kids about how to use social media properly. We must teach them that no matter what any app promises (Snapchat, etc.) they are never anonymous online and their posts will not disappear. The myth of online privacy bears repetition. We need to tell kids over and over again that everything they post is permanent and privacy online does not exist. Children have a hard time understanding this concept and for a good reason. They are promised anonymity and blindly believe that their audience is only the friend they are snapping with, not their future college, employers, landlords, or even spouses.
Permanence and discoverability are difficult concepts to understand, and adults don't comprehend them any better than kids. We have seen Ivy League deans, CEO's, congressmen, and hundreds of other adults illustrate their lack of understanding of social media's ramifications. Adult social media blunders bring me back to my initial question, does the Little League punishment make sense? If adults don’t completely understand that privacy is dead, how can we expect kids who have not been taught essential 21st-century skills to learn these lessons?
Without social media education, we cannot expect the outcome to be different. Google’s memory is long, and when these girls try out for college softball teams or are evaluated for softball scholarships, their Snapchat blunder has the potential to follow them. The lapse in judgment that these 12-14-year-old players made was avoidable. I can guarantee that if the players understood the important distinction between their actual audience and intended audience, they would think twice before posting what they posted.