Student Expelled for Blog Content & What it Means for Us as Bloggers

Mihaela Lica has awarded me a Thinking Blogger Award, my second award in two days. Isn’t life (and blogging) wonderful?

However, this award comes with strings attached. Mihaela discusses the case of Ariel Constantinof, a student in her native Romania who was expelled for his blog content. She wants me to comment on the expulsion. I want to take it one step further, and look at the big picture.

Blog Content & What it Means for Us as Bloggers

What Does This Have To Do With Us as Writers?

What does this have to do with writing? He was expelled for blogging about his classmates and a teacher. This case highlights issues of our rights and responsibilities as writers and bloggers. Ariel’s blog shows one post in English on this.

Two days ago I was expelled from school without any official document because of the things I wrote about the school, here, on my blog. I wrote about how one of my colleagues is sleeping during hours, things that happen between colleagues at school, how my colleagues played a “trick” on a teacher and so on. I didn’t use offensive words or pictures and I meant no offense to my teachers or to my school. At the moment I am deprived from the right to learn.

Should the student have been expelled?

I’m sure the issue of whether he will return to the school can be resolved. I certainly hope so, as on the face of it, it does seem an overreaction, and poorly handled. I can’t comment too much on this aspect as I don’t read Romanian, and don’t know all the facts. Hopefully, both the school and the student will learn from this, and move on. It is an opportunity for the school to discuss the positive power and potential of blogging with their students, as evidenced by Mihaela’s own initiative, Blogger Power.

Bloggers Have Rights & Responsibilities

As I have not read the original post (in Romanian) which led to Ariel’s expulsion, I will address this in relation to blogging in general, rather than this case, specifically. Bloggers need to understand that actions have impact and consequences, not the least of which is how actions (and words) impact on others. While a blogger may mean no harm, there are other issues at play. With rights comes responsibilities.

The Permanency & Lasting Impact of Words

While I am not suggesting it was the case in this instance, the medium of blogging can lure you into a sense of anonymity, and sometimes bravado. Bloggers have been fired for blogging about workmates. What bloggers boast on My Space to enhance teenage street cred, may come back to haunt them when a prospective employer does the inevitable web crawl for their name. What is written, can often be “unwritten” (assuming it has not been printed or emailed on), but it cannot be “unsaid”. Reflection time is often the missing ingredient in blogging, particularly personal blogging.

he Ripple Effect

I’m all for free speech and self expresson, but I am also concerned about the rights of those being blogged about, and issues of privacy, sensitivity, considered judgement and respect. Canadian educator, Clarence Fisher struggled with issues of censorship in his role as a teacher wanting to create “open spaces” for his students’ thoughts and writing. His insightful post sparked an interesting discussion in the comments from other educators such as Darren.

Having been a teacher, I know that what is a throw away harmless comment for one person, can be agonisingly hurtful and embarrassing for someone else. Even if the blog is written at home, it stands to reason that classmates will read each others blogs and that word will spread. The essence of blogging is no different to saying the words in public, or printing them for others to read.

Guiding Principles

Mihaela’s original request was to support the student’s reinstatement. I support that, but also needed to address the bigger picture. Jim Wenzloff, one of Clarence Fisher’s commenters, said it best.

David Warklick wrote about ethical guidelines for teachers and students. He posted this tidbit: I would direct you to the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). There are four major sections:

  • 1. Seek Truth and Report It
  • 2. Minimize Harm
  • 3. Act Independently
  • 4. Be Accountable

Jim adds – I liked the headings. I think they are simple and kids can understand them. If I were going to add to them, I think I would add pause and think about what you wrote before you post.