Thoughts on a Tweet

I recently had a tweet go “viral” in the non-celebrity sense… something like 80,000 impressions in a day which I attribute to the likes, replies, and retweets. In this post, I dig a little deeper into my rationale for the tweet.

First, let’s all agree that sharing images in which students can be identified should not be done. Even if you have signed releases or believe you are functioning as a journalist, we should not be sharing images of students. Notice I did not say we cannot. You can successfully argue you are in a public space, and one has no expectation of privacy in public. Implicit in this is that there might be individuals who hope to maintain some privacy (for whatever reason) and I believe no educator should interfere with privacy whether students have asked for it or not. Let’s call this the presumption privacy is preferred and let’s not violate it.

What are the consequences if we do? They may not be legal, but they may be personal and professional. I’m unsure how an educator could hope to have positive relationships with students and families if they violated their desire for privacy.

Second, let’s consider backs of heads, hands, or masked students, and similar photos in which students are not visible but not identifiable. This is less insidious than posting photos of students in which they are identified. I have advised educators to opt for this many times over my career, but I am less a fan of this than I used to be. Just what constitutes students being “in” am image? To me it is when individual students could be identified if their faces were shown. And these photos should not be shared. Groups of students in the distance seems OK to me.

Third, let’s consider the works students produce. Those works are as much intellectual property as the poems, paintings, and programs adults create in the real world. In my opinion, sharing the work requires the expressed consent of both the adults responsible for the students and the students themselves. In my opinion, it is acceptable, but only with consent.

Much of the discussion resulting from my tweet focused on consent. If we are granted consent, then we may share work in good conscious. My concept of consent is grounded in my experience as a qualitative researcher. In that context, consent is informed. Participants know how their data will be used and managed. Participants know how to withdraw their consent, which results in their data no longer being used in the manner to which they originally consented. Informed consent must occur prior to any participation.

In my mind, it is unacceptable for teachers to share images (even masked images) on social media because they cannot inform their students how the images will be used; once it is posted, you lose all control of it. It is also impossible for one to withdrawn consent for the image to be used.

In my mind it is unacceptable for teachers to use students work in any place inside or outside the classroom without informed consent. Yes, I know there may be some program assessment purposes for which one could argue students’ work should be shared, but I think we owe it to our students to ask their permission and to protect their privacy.