The story of an Indiana high school teacher who had his threatening message outed on social media and was forced to resign caught my eye this morning. One significant reason was the headline of the story: “Social media a new dilemma for law enforcers.” Dilemma? That seemed an odd choice of words. It made me wonder if social media truly was a dilemma or if this was just a link bait headline.
In this particular case the teacher was upset over the way his class had treated a substitute teacher. Upon his return, the teacher wrote on the blackboard:
A. You are idiots!!!
B. The guns are loaded!!!
C. Care to try me???
The message was captured by a student and posted to Facebook and the teacher was placed on administrative leave before he retired. The blackboard incident apparently came after some other Facebook comments posted by the teacher prior to his return to class. There was a media storm and the teacher was gone. Sounds like the right result.
So why is this a dilemma?
Merriam-Webster defines dilemma as one of three things: an argument with two equal sides, an unpleasant choice, or a difficult or persistent problem. The quotes from law enforcement in the article suggest that social media has raised a number of concerns to the point where they needed to be addressed by law enforcement. That doesn’t seem to fall under any definition of dilemma.
Social media, for the most part, allows information to be shared on a wider basis. To the point that this has caused incidents that may have gone unnoticed or unaddressed to be dealt with thanks to social media, that’s a good thing. Steubenville is a powerful example of social media forcing wrongs to be handled. I suppose the flip side could also be true–an outcry on social media compelling law enforcement to take an action they otherwise don’t want to take. But to the extent law enforcement has a decision made difficult because of public outcry there’s probably some other things going wrong.
In the wake of this school incident the Indiana legislature has expanded crimes of intimidation to include social media postings. While it seems to me that the original law shouldn’t have been limited in such a way as to need expanding to include social media (did it actually list where the intimidation could occur as opposed to it simply occurring?), that’s a needed expansion if they wrote it so narrowly in the first place. Social media is a channel for information to be exchanged–good and bad. Having access to that information shouldn’t create a dilemma if the information is true and the decision makers know what to do with it.