Many people agree with him about the gravity of the problem. It's engendered so much hysteria, both in the Bay Area and nationally, that many parents unequivocally support Assemblywoman Garcia's law and others like it. Before the advent of social media, it seems, schools trod more lightly around free speech and privacy; adults wouldn't jump to strip a student's First Amendment rights. Now, that question is open for debate.


Tucked inside a cream-colored, stucco building in San Francisco's Mission District, Buena Vista Horace Mann School has the same wholesome character as Albany High without the small-town attributes. On many mornings a peal of horns brays through the school cafeteria as the school band practices its scales. Obama posters adorn the main office, alongside framed Crayola drawings to celebrate Gay Pride week. The only markedly out of place feature is a large flatscreen surveillance video on the office wall, capturing black-and-white footage of everything that happens within the school grounds. Like many San Francisco schools, Buena Vista Horace Mann began installing cameras over the last few years as part of a districtwide "modernization."

Kids flit in and out of the camera frame on an unseasonably warm day in November, many of them wearing skirts over their jeans. The school named this day "Skirts for Sasha," a commemoration for Sasha Fleischman, the 18-year-old Maybeck High School senior who suffered severe burns when another teenager lit his skirt on an AC Transit bus. (Fleischman identifies as agender and reportedly wears skirts as a political statement.)

The students at Buena Vista Horace Mann get as many lessons in social tolerance as previous generations got in the War on Drugs. They have leadership classes, counselors, diversity assemblies, and a digital ethics curriculum designed by the local nonprofit Common Sense Media, whose founders want to teach children how to be good citizens on the Internet. (Over the past two years, all San Francisco public schools began implementing Common Sense lesson plans in their classrooms.) In many ways, the school exemplifies a certain San Francisco ideal of people coming together in spite of their differences.

But it's still awash in protective infrastructure — from the video cameras scattered about the school to the anti-bullying curriculum taught inside the classrooms. That security features are so embedded in the school's architecture suggests that the idea of monitoring kids has become prevalent and accepted. In that light, then, this new law seems like more of the same.

District Attorney George Gascón, who launched his "Bye-Bye Bullying" student video contest a couple of years ago, frequently cites research saying 56 percent of teens nationally have been victims of Internet harassment. He doesn't see as many cases reported in San Francisco, since they're now being handled by schools' internal bureaucracies. On a broad scale, though, Gascón views cyber-bullying as a scourge.

"If you're looking at the last several years, I think it is growing," he says. Or, as Rosemary Higgins, an eighth grader at Buena Vista Horace Mann, puts it during "Skirts for Sasha" day, "There are hella creepers on social media."

But not every school takes the soft-enforcement, prevention-oriented approach favored in San Francisco.

Some would rather create their own security state to help monitor — and micro-manage — students' Internet lives. And now the tools are available to do that: Last year, Glendale Unified School District hired a Hermosa Beach-based start-up, Geo Listening, to track the social media posts of its 14,000 middle and high school students. Per its contract, the district spends $40,500 a year for the company's analysts to identify key words — anything related to bullying, petty crimes, suicidal thoughts, lewd language, or even swear words — and then to flag and screen-grab the posts and send them to school administrators. Geo Listening says that this year it expects to contract with thousands of schools nationally, a prospect that makes Porter at the Branson School recoil.

"And we're worried about the NSA?" she says. "Here we are, terrified about the government spying us, and yet we're really eager to spy on our kids. We're just that paranoid."


Kids don't make it so easy to track them. While there's no single network that teenagers prefer, it's clear that most of them are extremely canny on social media, and apt to bounce around precisely to avoid adult oversight.

Kids at Buena Vista Horace Mann, Lincoln High School, and Oakland Tech explained their migratory pattern: When Facebook became the province of old people showcasing their baby pictures or preening about their lasagna, teens had already fled to Instagram and Twitter. Then they bounced to a Twitter video application called Vine — which allows users to express themselves through six-second looped videos. Then they moved to Snapchat, the ephemeral photo-sending app through which users send images that are automatically erased shortly after they're opened. Then they tried a text-messaging service called Kik. Some ultimately returned to Facebook, but adjusted their privacy settings.

Albany High alum Hannah Trumbull — who witnessed the Bitch League scandal and wrote about it for the school newspaper — says she prefers Twitter and Snapchat because "they haven't been infiltrated by the adult world." Lincoln High seniors Jimmy Chen and Ezra De Asis say the kids at their school prefer a more intricate form of expression: They'll jot things down on their cellphone Notepad applications, screen-grab the note, and then post the picture to Instagram.

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7 comments
goodnbad
goodnbad

The only way to put a stop to the whole world watching everyone do everything, is to unplug!  The lid to Pandora's box has been blown off, if we want really want to put the genie back in the bottle, then we must break the bottle, too.

If you know the story about Eve taking a bite of the apple, than you know how the story ends.

John LaForgia
John LaForgia

"I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for. And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling." Well, too bad for you. According to you Porter (and you), I can say whatever I want on the internet and it's not my fault if it makes you angry and I should not be held responsible for your feelings. Even though, in a fight on the schoolyard, every teachers first question would be "who started it?" Internet is just a bigger schoolyard. Now *that* is trolling.

John LaForgia
John LaForgia

A few high profile, isolated instances? Blowing it out of proportion? There shouldn't be any instances. Reach as far as they want. Damn well better be keeping my kids (and all others, even from them selves) safe any way they possible can during the time she's at school and, if it helps, even after school. None if this hiding behind free speech crap, either, when it comes to children's online time. Also, "A kid might be culpable for any nasty text messages he writes, Porter says, but he's not responsible for the recipient who keeps looking at them and getting more and more upset." Porter, you're an idiot.

makalatis
makalatis

I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for.

And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling.


You can't shut children away from the internet. Well, you can. But you shouldn't.

It is one of the staples of our modern society and learning how to deal with it correctly is a critical life skill.

Am I condoning the writing of nasty text messages? No.

But it's no different than passing nasty notes in class, or harassing somebody by putting a hatefilled letter in their mailbox.


The separation between school and elsewhere gets muddled and this makes these forms of communication a tricky subject to handle for the schools, which Rachel Swan covered very nicely.


Your reaction comes across as a knee-jerk reflex to protect your children.

This is both logical and admirable, but it is misdirected.

Bullying is a terrible thing, but it is not endemic to social media or "digital communication" in general, and keeping your children away from this will only single them out.

jklaforgia
jklaforgia

"I'm sorry but your attacks on Porter are rather uncalled for.

And might even be constructed as cyber-bullying, you even resorted to name-calling.

"

Well, too bad for you. According to you Porter (and you), I can say whatever I want on the internet and it's not my fault if it makes you angry and I should not be held responsible for your feelings. Even though, in a fight on the schoolyard, every teachers first question would be "who started it?" Internet is just a bigger schoolyard.

Now *that* is trolling.

makalatis
makalatis

@jklaforgiaI did not post that to "win" this comment section, but rather to give some counter-weight to what was then the only comment on an article I agree with.


You actually raise a valid point though, the internet IS just a bigger school yard, but it's not affiliated with your children's school in any way, shape or form. Responsibility for proper conduct should therefore, as with almost any other time, lie with the child itself and its parents / guardians.

 
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