Teens, Tweets And The Thought Police - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

From Tech Producer Tshaka Armstrong

Teens, Tweets And The Thought Police

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First things first, if you're a teen reading this, I am so sorry that a part of your childhood has been taken away from you! Your parents have thought and said silly things. Your principals have thought and said silly things. If you're unfortunate enough to be arrested for something you thought was harmless that you put out there in the social media ether, the arresting officers, judges and attorneys involved in your case have thought and said silly things. I can assure you that all of us/them are glad we didn't have Twitter or YouTube around during some of our dumbest, most regrettable moments. But that was then. This is now.

In the "now," Rebecca Sedwick killed herself as the result of bullies who were – according to media reports-  able to get to her wherever she went, through her digital devices and social media. In the "now," Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He and others have taken lives at schools around the nation, some posting to social media prior to their deeds. In the "now," ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner posted a rambling manifesto to Facebook before going on a 9 day rampage that left four people dead and three police officers wounded. In the "now," Googling the phrase, "boy threatens school on social media" will bring up 52,500,00 results in .93 seconds with the top hit being a paid ad for a corporate security company under the heading "Web Threat Awareness – Threat Monitoring & Social Media." I too think that zero tolerance policies can be foolish and overreaching, often defying common sense in an effort to avoid potential litigation. Zero tolerance policies are about risk management; they aren't about you the student… until they are. With the present day threats of terrorism, both foreign and domestic, no one wants to be the principal or teacher that didn't take a tweet or Facebook post seriously. No one wants to be "that guy" who let the unimaginable happen on his or her watch when it could've been avoided and that's what you have to understand.

This isn't about you, though it will always feel as though it is. This isn't about stifling your ability to vent, or emote, or have your voice heard or be a teen, though that's what it does. The harsh reality is you must have more wisdom than I did at your age. Notice I didn't say that you must be smarter than I was? "Smarts" have to do with what you know, but wisdom is how you use it. You know more about technology and gadgets than many of your parents, but it's all about how you use them. For the most part, you can't control how the teachers or principals or law enforcement agents are going to respond to how you use the technology because their orders come from somewhere else. What you can control is yourself. Life isn't fair and this situation, in light of your parents' childhood, isn't fair but it's the reality and you will be judged by what you tweet, post, Instagram, Snapchat (yes, they can be stored for later), reblog, etc. You can still be silly, fun, young and do many of the things teens do but you must look outside yourselves and understand the times.

You're the ones in school, so you know that kids are bringing guns, you know that there are fights, you know that there have been shootings so you know that you should avoid tweets like this while sitting in class bored, "#ThoughtsDuringSchool should I shoot up the school? what if I accidently shoot someone I like? Pfftt I hate everyone what am I talking about."  That tweet got a Lawndale high school student arrested Thursday and while some people see punitive action behind a tweet like that as a no-brainer, there are still just as many students who look and say that you can't arrest someone for thinking. Then, there was Tyson Leon, a 16-year-old football player and wrestler at Shakopee High School who tweeted "Im boutta drill my 'teammates' on Monday." He says it was a reference to tackling and wasn't a threat but he was suspended anyway. He says the suspension from sports was hurting his chances of getting a wrestling scholarship to attend college. Clearly Leon's tweet was much tamer than the Lawndale high school students tweet but both may have long-lasting effects on those students' futures, whether fair or not.

The problem is that once you put it out there, you are no longer in the realm of just "thinking." Please, for your futures, you must consider what you're doing before you post. If you want to change the way the world is responding to your social media messages, there are ways to do that which can have a positive impact on the world around you but if you post thoughts to the internet which have been connected with mass violence or terrorism in the past you have to know that there may very likely be severe consequences, the likes of which could have a very negative impact on your future.

Tshaka Armstrong Tech Ninja Tshaka Armstong writes about the latest technology and helping FOX 11 Viewers understand how to be safer, smarter users of the internet and their "gadgets. He's also one of our social media guys, helping guide the station's online efforts and social media outreach.
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