Defanti Incident: One more reason to separate your private data from professional

July 8, 2009

isabelle_jackson_elem_smHere I am, back on my favourite recent soapbox. Maybe you’ve heard about Crystal Defanti. She is a fifth grade teacher @ Isabelle Jackson Elementary in Sacramento, California. The incident goes like this: Defanti makes a DVD of fifth grade memories and sends it off with the class to take home at the end of this school year. Unbeknownst to Ms. Defanti, she included a short clip of herself naked in a graphic position on a couch that is interspliced with the fifth grade footage.

Now Defanti is becoming a celebrity of sorts as her incident has shown up on TV, Associated Content, blogs, etc. The original TV spot from CBS news indicates that Defanti is still employed in the district and the station’s legal expert indicates that it is unlikely that Defanti will loose her job or career over the incident. (You’ll have to dig that one up yourself as I won’t for personal reasons embed or link it here.) One of the parents spoken to by CBS reporter, David Begnaud, stated that Defanti called him the day after the DVD went home “crying hysterically, profusely apologizing saying it was all an accident”. The parent also stated that Defanti asked him to help her contact other parents to prevent their children from seeing the DVD.

rosenfeldCBS cites a local legal expert, Ken Rosenfeld who said that that Defanti did not intend for this to happen and called her actions “felony stupid, but not a crime”.  Rosenfeld also stated that while Defanti could loose her job over this, it’s unlikely: “Is it something she should be disciplined for, certainly. But loose her career over? She didn’t intend for this to happen.”

Most of the buzz on this seems to center on whether Defanti should continue to teach–since at the time of the posting she is still apparently employed in the school. I don’t know the context of her professional situation–only her administrators, parents of students, etc. know that for sure–so I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on whether she should be fired, asked to leave voluntarily or stay on. For me, there’s a larger issue for all teachers and professionals beyond this individual case–we must separate our personal and professional data as much as possible. What may seem innocent and acceptable as an individual citizen, is not so acceptable in the scrutiny of professional standards/codes of behaviour–and as teachers we are under constant scrutiny. We are held to a higher standard of behaviour than the general population–we are considered role models & moulders of young minds for our local communities.

This type of concern is what led the city of Bozeman, Montana to try to get the passwords to social networking sites for city job applicants–a practice they’ve since rescinded. Do I agree with this level of invasiveness–absolutely not–but I think it is our responsibility as professionals to manage our digital footprints in a manner aligned with what is expected of us. The issues of how employee behaviour reflects on employers is what is prompting companies like IBM and Intel to take proactive measures, creating guidelines around employee use of social networking: IBM guidelines Intel guidelines. In fact, I had a student in a recent seminar I gave on digital footprints who told me as an employee of EB Games in Canada he was required to sign an agreement that he would not tie his name to the company’s in his personal social networking content. (I’m contacting the company now to see if I can see or share this policy). As teachers, our behaviour reflects not only on our schools and districts but on our profession as well. We need to keep that in mind.

razaMoreover, I worry that what happened to the Star Wars kid (whose real name is Ghyslain Raza  by the way) might happen to Defanti as a result of how quickly this type of content spreads. If you don’t know Raza’s story, some old footage of him fooling around as a Jedi @ 15 years old was found in school by fellow students recording on the same cassette. The other students put the content on the Internet and went viral. It became one of the biggest all-time viral videos. Raza was subjected to extensive vicious bullying and ridicule as a result. Raza dropped out of school and was “under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time”. The stigma could make it difficult or Raza to continue his education, find a job and might necessitate a name change. Raza’s family sued the families of the 3 students involved and settled out of court.

Such slip-ups,where the content is digital, are hard to recover from. The data moves faster than lightspeed–and unfortunately,  it seems the more embarrassing or salacious the item, the more likely it is that it will be spread.

This incident would make for a very timely and useful case-study for school & district administrators everywhere. Anyone’s school, district or companies out there have policies and guidelines around use of digital, social or other media that you are willing to share?

lHe dropped out of school & “will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time.” stigma could make it difficult for the kid to continue his education, find employment, and might necessitate that he change his name.

Professionalism & Web 2.0

June 22, 2009

It’s posts like this from Digital Education, “Teachers banned from Twitter after indescreet tweet” that get me concerned about the lack of professional development around web 2.0 technologies for teachers.  If you’re not familiar with the situation, a Scottish teacher known as a tech leader in a rural district tweeted , “Have three Asperger’s boys in S1 class: never a dull moment! Always offer an interesting take on things”. This caused a ruckus with the district & community. Read the Guardian article for more detail here.  So what does the district do but BAN the use of twitter & blogging by teachers although they may access other teachers blogs, etc.  It is my belief that there are a significant number of teachers and educational professionals using social networking tools, who don’t have a solid grasp re. how social networking services replicate information–so that you can only delete your original but the replicants are still out there–or the reasons why they should separate their professional & personal social networking identities. Often many do not understand the permanency of electronic communication until it is too late and their careers are impacted.

Here was my response to the Digital Education post, “No Tweets for Scottish Teachers.”

Are teachers allowed to discuss their work? Of course. That said we have a professional responsibility to protect the best interests of the students under our care.

ETHICAL HUMAN RESEARCH STANDARD

From the Guardian article it appears that the teacher identified the students as being hers, being in her S1 class, & having the specific condition. The article also states that she is in a rural community. Now if it’s like our rural districts here in Canada, that type of description would not meet ethical human research standards–as it is likely I could readily identify the students from the given information.

NATURE OF SOCIAL NETWORKING & TWITTER

There is also a comment in the article that the teacher only “sent to people she regarded as personal friends”. Was her Twitter account public or private? If public, anyone logging on to the internet page with that teacher’s account name would see the information–and if the teacher completed an online public profile–those students could be identified without too much difficulty. Was it sent as a DM (direct message) to those “others” with an expectation of privacy or not? If not, the others could RT (retweet) the message–and anyone following the “others” would see it and could then similarly RT it. If it was a DM–everyone who uses direct messaging needs to understand (in any social networking or collaborative software)–those only have an “expectation” of privacy. Anyone could cut and paste that DM content into a tweet and repost it–not ethically perhaps but not everyone is ethical 100% of the time. Once those messages enter the twittersphere–or any social networking application that allows replication & transmission of content–there is no going back. You can delete your contribution–but if it has been replicated by anyone on your network–you no longer have control of that piece.

BOTTOM LINE

All users of social networking–teachers, students, parents, administrators–need to know how the software works so that they can consciously use it to support student & professional development. What we need is more professional development around web 2.0 tools so people can use them in a conscious and informed professional manner–not prohibitions. I have seen several mistakes by professionals like this likely well-intentioned teacher simply because they didn’t understand HOW social networking works and what the ramifications might be re. content posted there. I have begun to develop & deliver workshops on Digital Footprints for educators and students alike for this very reason. If you are interested contact me. Happy to share what I know.