Teens Expelled for Twitter Posts That Reportedly Threatened Harm

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

Teens Expelled for Twitter Posts That Reportedly Threatened Harm

I’ll never forget one of the scariest moments as a seventh grader. Word spread like wild fire about a graffiti message scrawled on a student’s desk that announced the next day all kids and teachers in the school would die. For a building that housed both middle and high school students – and perhaps no more than 500 kids total – you can imagine how quickly word spread. And what was perhaps so shocking was that in a school in which everyone knew each other’s first, last and middle names, how could one want to hurt kids he/she had know since he/she was born?

It was the first time in the district’s history that a threat had been made against the school and panic quickly set in. On the day of the supposed bombing, school remained open, although less than 10 percent of the school’s population attended and those who did were greeted with metal detectors, bomb squad dogs and police officers. The school was certainly trying to send a message: we will not bow down to unsubstantiated threats. But another message emerged as well. Could someone really be capable of harming the family?

Fast forward more than decade later and now administrators are not looking for warning signs etched on desks or on the bathroom walls, but rather posts and status updates shared via Facebook, Twitter and other social media avenues.

Just this week, two West Haven High School students, a junior and a sophomore, were arrested and expelled from school after teachers reportedly found tweets earlier this month in which the junior referenced placing a bomb in a locker and the sophomore wrote about shooting himself and others. Despite both students contending that the messages were meant as jokes, the teens are now facing felony charges, according to Sgt. Dave Tammaro.

“The two happened so close together that we thought someone needs to say to these kids that if you post something, you’re going to be held responsible,” Tammaro said Monday, adding that the names and ages of the students would not be released because they are juveniles.

According to Principal Pamela Gardner, the school is working with police to prevent instances like these from occurring again by holding programs to educate parents about the dangers of social media.

“I think kids don’t really think when they post on Twitter, and it’s really important that kids understand that what they write on any social media, they’re held accountable for, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek because you can’t get the meaning across — you don’t know if it’s sarcasm or how it was intended,” Gardner said.

“And so I think that what is really important is that kids and parents are really aware of how social media is impacting our students’ lives,” she added.

Gardner’s last sentiment couldn’t be more dead on. Students may think that Facebook and Twitter musings are written in jest (particularly when they belittle their classmates and deride their buddies), but the truth is that everything that is said lives on in cyberspace and becomes permanent. As we saw in the recent Tyler Clementi case in which Dharun Ravi was accused of allegedly recording Tyler’s intimate moments with another male and streaming it across the Internet, the prosecution was ultimately able to turn to Ravi’s Twitter account and use previous posts as damaging evidence.

Individuals, especially students, need to start understanding that specific social media use is now being deemed illicit, and posts that was were meant to elicit humor are now being taken a whole lot more seriously.

On the other side of things, administrators and police also need to be aware that for every student that is joking on Twitter about hurting himself or others, there is a student who is speaking the truth. So let us make sure we call out those kids who are crying wolf and also find the ones who really are crying wolf before it is too late. Let’s not ignore the rants and raves in the social media stratosphere.

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