Magazine article Momentum

Social Media: Blessing or Legal Curse?

Magazine article Momentum

Social Media: Blessing or Legal Curse?

Article excerpt

September heralded the beginning of new learning in both schools and religious education programs. In the midst of lesson planning and other preparation, the new year presents no shortage of other concerns, some of which can be categorized as legal worries.

This article focuses on social media, which is not a new issue. Concerns about both the psychological as well as the legal issues involved in the use of social media still abound. It is a topic that many administrators address in beginning of the year school meetings and/or by policy in handbooks.

Are Educators Social Media Police?

News media continue to report the tragic deaths of young people who were allegedly driven to commit suicide by unkind and/or harassing social media postings. What, if any, responsibilities do administrators and educators have in these situations? Some teachers will admit that they are so worried about social media and their potential liability that they don't even want to look at it There is no requirement that teachers check the social media accounts of their students to police them or check for issues of concern. However, as grieving parents look for someone to blame, it is becoming commonplace to hear of schools and teachers being accused of knowing about harassing, bullying and other unkind postings and to have done nothing to stop them.

Catholic educators are responsible for reasonably safeguarding the welfare of their students and are expected to be vigilant-not hyper vigilant, but vigilant Vigilance does not require that educators check students' Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or other social platform accounts. The term in loco parentis {in the place of parents) was dropped from most legal decisions, perhaps because many parents objected to the school acting in their place. Some legal writers suggested that an even higher standard was needed and called for a fiduciary standard for educators. A fiduciary is one who is expected to take at least as much care, usually more, of that with which he or she is entrusted as he or she would if it were his own. Thus, we can see the in loco parentis standard returning. So, in practical terms what does that mean for today's Catholic educators?

As has always been the case, Catholic educators are expected to report or act upon dangerous situations of which they become aware. So, acting upon knowledge of danger or injury has been a normal expectation. Educators understand that if they have knowledge of a dangerous situation, they must take that knowledge to someone with the authority to do something about the danger.

Obviously, actual knowledge requires action. If an educator fails to act when confronted with a danger, the educator could be liable for negligence if injury results from the inaction.

The Coocept Of Constructive Knowledge

More recently a second type of knowledge has been argued in cases: constructive knowledge. Constructive knowledge is a complex concept because it means that the person should have known about the danger, e.g. harassing comments on social media. The reader may well ask, "Who is going to decide what I should have known?" In a lawsuit, the fact finder, generally the jury, would but if there is no jury, then the judge makes the determination. However, it should be noted that very few jurors and even fewer judges have ever tried to teach 25 squirming, not so eager to learn children or adolescents.

A simple example may explain what is meant by constructive knowledge. There are educators who, for whatever reason, do not like technology. They do not have social media accounts, utilize the Internet for much of anything or give cyberspace much thought These individuals may "glaze over," so to speak, when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are mentioned and simply place their attention elsewhere. …

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