Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of talking with Arianna Prothero at EducationWeek about Seattle Public Schools’ suing Snap, Alphabet, Meta, and ByteDance, and she ended up quoting me—and colleagues like Jeff Carpenter and Josh Rosenberg—in her article.
I appreciate that all three of us were quoted in the article, because Jeff and Josh both made points that I didn’t articulate as well in my conversation with Arianna. For example, Jeff’s comments summed up a lot of the complexities that have gone through my head:
Social media, and even its use in school, can have benefits, said Jeffrey Carpenter, a professor of education at Elon University who studies social media in education. It’s a venue for adolescents and teens to connect with new communities and perspectives and a source of informal learning about topics that students are not taught in school.
Social media is not going away, he said, so it’s important that schools teach students how to use it responsibly.
“At the same time, it’s a lot to ask schools to be in charge of fixing or preventing all of the real problems wrought by social media,” Carpenter said in an email to Education Week. “The social media companies need more regulation and accountability, but in the absence of signs that such regulation and accountability is forthcoming, maybe a school district trying something like this lawsuit is not a bad thing.”
To be honest, I don’t know that there’s a strong basis for this lawsuit: As Kelly Vailancourt Strobach (whom I don’t know) argued in the article, it’s hard to pin this specifically on social media. In fact, more than anything, the one thing that came out of this conversation is that I wish I knew better about the debate about the link between social media and mental health. I’m sympathetic to what Seattle Public Schools is doing here, and I think we ought to take mental health concerns seriously, but I also know that thinkers I respect (notably, Mike Masnick) are skeptical about overbroad claims in this area. I haven’t read the arguments for or against this as much as I should have.
Which, of course, is why my own comments to EdWeek were on a different subject:
“It’s very easy to imagine a situation where a school district could engage in a high-profile criticism of one kind of software but not pay attention to what they’re using in the classroom and how that could be harmful to students in less high profile ways than mental health,” said Spencer Greenhalgh, an assistant professor of information, communication, and technology in the School of Information Science at the University of Kentucky. “There are a lot of issues of student surveillance that are going on right now.”
I also appreciated Josh’s comments outlining that sometimes it’s schools themselves that are doing harm to students re: social media, referencing some of his excellent research that’s also been covered in EdWeek:
How schools and districts use social media can also cause students harm, said Joshua Rosenberg, an assistant professor of STEM education at the University of Tennessee.
“Adolescents are not the only ones using social media in such a way that might have downsides,” he said. “My colleagues and I looked into how schools and school districts use the social media platform Facebook, finding that educational institutions share student photos and names in such a way that may compromise students’ privacy at a large scale.”
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