Across the SFUSD, students are restricted from accessing certain applications that are not considered “academic” for schools and education. However, this blocks out many students from facilitating extra-curricular activities, such as clubs, free time, and their social lives. Regardless of the decision that the district had made, students are obligated to utilize data as an alternative way to go on social media.
Internet safety and security is a hot topic in the modern age of big brother protocols and private companies making your information public. The Federal Communications Commision recognized this early on in the lifespan of the internet and passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to prevent or at least restrict “harmful materials” from becoming prevalent on school campus computers.
Two journalism students, who use Discord (a social media) daily, discuss the pros and cons of the social media applications that are blocked by the district:
William: What do you think about the district’s reaction to blocking certain social media applications?
Sean: I feel like this restriction puts a barrier of safety, albeit, it also takes away the liberty from students who want to access these applications during a free period.
William: I think the restriction is inefficient, because most students who have access to applications like Snapchat, presumably through their phones, also have a data plan, so if they want to use Snapchat or any other blocked applications, they can simply disconnect from the school’s wifi, which means this restriction has little to no effect.
Sean: Some clubs at school require certain blocked applications for outside resources. For instance, the League of Legends Club at our school has a Discord server for communications regarding the club in itself. As this may sound like an undemanding form of communicating, Discord was recently blocked by the School District, thus creating a contradiction because a school-sponsored club is not allowed to access a restricted application.
William: While it is true that the League Club has a communal Discord, they also use other messaging services, such as Facebook Messenger, to communicate, which are not blocked by the district internet. While this application lacks a lot of the function of Discord, the barebones messaging does still work, and isn’t that all they really need?
Sean: There are many accessible applications that can be exposed to harmful materials. If someone violates another student on Facebook Messenger, then it’s likely that the district will block that application too. I have also heard that the Sophomore Pep Club uses Discord for communication. According to Samantha L. (sophomore), “[The ASB President] made us all make a discord account SPECIFICALLY for Song and Yell discussions. We had, like, 16 different group chats for different categories. We still use it even though Song and Yell ended. But, we used Discord CONSTANTLY and that’s why we had a steady routine this year.” From this, we know that blocking these applications also slow certain clubs to an immense degree.
William: So it seems like these applications accommodated for a more steady conversation between classmates, and allowed them to coordinate planning and such, however, it could also foster hostility and cyberbullying. How should the school deal with online abuse?
Sean: The school can’t stop online abuse. Even so, the school should be more informative with students about altercations between students.
William: While it is true that cyberbullying is more difficult to deal with than other forms of harassment, it doesn’t seem like they’re trying at all anymore. The school only ever seems to get seriously involved when something big happens, like the Snapchat incident, where private information was released to the public. Because of this incident, the school district takes initiative in blocking the application, in which enraged the majority of students. Is blocking the application really improving the school community? Furthermore, instead of blocking Snapchat, they should have had an assembly about cyberbullying on how to recognize and prevent it. At the same time, we have to recognize the position the school is in, and how difficult it can be to try and balance all these external influences. On the one hand, both kids involved with the Snapchat incident did break the rules, but on the other hand, they also used an application to violate the privacy of another student. Are the decisions made by the district really justified?
Sean: Lawfully, yes. Morally, no. This only strives for an extended discussion between students, schools, and districts in general. I believe that students should have the ability to speak up about issues like this, more so than the districts spontaneously restricting everyday used applications without notice.