In the aftermath of last week’s altercation during the New Rochelle-White Plains, we were noticing a lot of back and forth on social media that threatened to escalate the situation even further. My colleague Mike Dougherty spoke to a social media expert and examined the issue—and what can be done by schools to prevent bad blood on Twitter and the like. It’s important in these situations for students to remember that what they put out there can be seen by more people than they might think.
The social media aftershocks began to register within minutes of the punch.
Schoolmates were fuming on Twitter after an altercation during a boys soccer game last week that left White Plains High School midfielder Ozzie Escobedo hospitalized with a broken jaw and New Rochelle High School midfielder Stefedson Dieudonne facing a misdemeanor assault charge.
There were some get-well-soon wishes, but most of the conversation was profane.
A wide majority of the remarks on Twitter appear to have come from accounts of White Plains students and included a malicious hashtag. They did eventually catch the eye of administrators from both schools and quickly underscored the fact that most high schools are ill-equipped to handle the next generation of smack talk.
“We spoke to our kids after it happened and told them to stay off Twitter, stay off Facebook and don’t comment on the situation to anybody,” New Rochelle athletic director Steve Young said.
It does not appear that players from either side were part of the online fracas.
White Plains interim Superintendent Timothy Connors said he had no concerns about students from his district seeking to retaliate. He indicated that a Twitter feed with a profane handle that was being used to communicate about the incident could be the work of current or former students, or anyone else in the community.
“Kids talk the way they do,” he said. “But our students are responsive. The principal talked to them. I have great confidence they will do the right thing.”
Good faith isn’t enough, according to one social media expert.
Sarah Van Elzen is the social media director at Hanson Dodge Creative, a marketing company in Milwaukee that has developed social media strategies for a number of national brands.
“I haven’t seen (a social media directive) from a high school, but I’ve seen many, many company policies,” Van Elzen said. “Something needs to say, ‘We expect you to act conscientiously in social media as part of anything that could be identified with the school.
“The school in this case is in a situation that’s beyond that, but I would recommend that’s something they do right away and send it out to parents, letting them know, ‘Hey, review this with your kids. This is something that is going to become high school policy moving forward, and if there’s a situation like this again, there could be disciplinary action.’ ”
Once the policy is written, Van Elzen suggests the schools appoint somebody in a position of authority to monitor social media on a daily basis. It can be a time-consuming job, but Van Elzen said that a free online tool such as HootSuite will cast a broad net across multiple platforms and highlight a majority of the offending comments. It’s very important to define what constitutes a harmless comment and what constitutes a potential threat, she said, and suggested that educating students is also part of the solution.
“You need to be letting them know, this is cool and this is not cool,” Van Elzen said. “Put it in terms that a teenager can understand. Don’t make it legal jargon. It should be, ‘Here’s an example of what’s acceptable or even playful. Here’s an example of what’s not acceptable, and here’s why.’ ”