Twitter And True Threats

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120 Responses

  1. K.C. says:

    Thanks for this post, Ken. I wasn't sure what the test was for actual threats vs. douche-tacularness – not that I'm taking what I see on Twitter all that seriously anyway.

  2. ShelbyC says:

    One somewhat disturbing aspect of the story was that Jezebel was not just outing people, but pressuring public institutions to punish students for their speech.

  3. Andrew Roth says:

    ShelbyC: That kind of gross civic irresponsibility is sadly common at gossip-oriented websites. Gawker is probably the biggest offender, although it has also published some surprisingly good investigative journalism recently.

    Ken: As it is, the Secret Service has to investigate threats by floridly psychotic and severely demented psychiatric inpatients, sometimes against dead presidents. Everything I've heard about these investigations indicates that the agents involved are consummately professional, thorough and patient even though they're effectively interviewing the senile and the clinically insane about totally nutty bullshit. Their reputation for being top-notch is no joke. Only an ignoramus or an asshat would dump more bullshit on their already full plates.

  4. eddie says:

    are you really doing it because you think these people are threats, or are you doing it because you like doing whatever you can to lash out at racist assholes?

    Or because it helps you preserve your self-image as a righteously good person?

    You know, like recycling.

  5. Trebuchet says:

    Ken, I've been hoping you'd comment on the outing of racist high school students. Can we hope for more on the subject, since this post was mostly about something else?

    I'm generally all for "name and shame" but have been feeling for a couple of days that going after kids crosses the line. Some of them may never be able to get into college or get a job. In most cases, of course, that would probably have been the case anyhow, but still….

  6. Matthew Cline says:

    As it is, the Secret Service has to investigate threats by floridly psychotic and severely demented psychiatric inpatients, sometimes against dead presidents.

    Wait, why do they bother investigating threats against dead presidents?

  7. Trebuchet says:

    Another thought about outing the racist HS students: How about outing their parents instead?

  8. Jack B. says:

    Wait, why do they bother investigating threats against dead presidents?

    There's an obscure Executive Order that offers secret service protection to Zombie presidents.

  9. AlphaCentauri says:

    Mentally ill people aren't good at remembering who the president is and often mix up people they don't like with Richard Nixon. But they might be equally willing to kill whoever is in office given the chance.

  10. Not That Patrick says:

    Seems like an additional motivation for the Secret Service to coolly and professionally investigate hundreds of hyperbolic and ludicrous threats would be to continue the employment of hundreds of Secret Service agents. My local Post Office (proud slogan: We haven't fired anyone since 1927) is also very happy to do ludicrous, timewasting jobs because it allows them to justify their payroll and keep the timesheets full.

  11. James Pollock says:

    If you keep the Secret Service agents interviewing mental patients, it keeps them away from the hookers.

  12. Kaisersoze says:

    This is off topic but I had to post it (and I apologize for the low quality photo).

    There is a little cafe in Santa Monica at 18th and Broadway called (surprise) 18th Street Cafe. Its owned by, as a friend of mine says, "a sweet old guy that goes to my Temple.. named Bob Dylan". This picture of a guy in a Popehat is posted prominently:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericvhccartman/8189145399/in/photostream/lightbox/

    So in some small way, Dylan is totally into Popehat.

  13. DMC-12 says:

    I thought about this yesterday, and the only real power the pansy-ass losers at Jezebel have are what the frightened sissyboy administrators at the schools give them.

    Anyone can practically "report" anything but if they don't have a standing, then who cares (n.b. that angry young man Rachel Maddow).

    The clowns at Jezebel aren't the problem, instead the CYA admins that feel they need to listen to them.

  14. CourtneyLee says:

    When I was a kid, I said all kinds of stupid, ignorant, shocking stuff. A good amount of it was parroting people whom I wanted to impress because I was still working on forming my own views and opinions about the world. Nowadays there are kids saying stupid, ignorant, shocking stuff on Twitter/Facebook/etc., which makes it public and enduring. I think the problem isn't that they're saying racist stuff, it's that they felt that it was fine and dandy to engrave those particular thoughts on the internet. I can look back on stupid stuff I said when I was a teeager and think to myself, "man, I'm glad that's behind me." But now social networking makes fleeting moments of idiocy hang like stones around these kids' necks. Yes, they said shitty things as kids, but should that really lead them to be denied entrance into a university or a job that could help them shed the ignorance of youth and be able to, like me, look back and be happy that they are no longer like that?

    They don't need to be outed as racists, they (and their parents and peers) need to be told some common-sense things about oversharing.

    Also, I find chilling the prospect of school admins taking any sort of action for speech that did not take place at school nor concern the school at all.

  15. flip says:

    Mentally ill people aren't good at remembering who the president is and often mix up people they don't like with Richard Nixon. But they might be equally willing to kill whoever is in office given the chance.

    That's one big generalisation you got there. I really hope my joke meter is broken.

    Back on topic: it sounds like telling the difference between a threat and hyperbole is more an art than a science?

  16. G Thompson says:

    I wrote a 'semi thoughtful' post/reply about the Tumblr blog linked on my own tumblr.

    Thought you lot might like to read my incoherent and brief ramblings ;)
    http://geekhideout.net/post/35828276711

  17. Gal says:

    "intent to kill or injure a major candidate for President. See Gordon, 974 F.2d at 1117. The second is that the defendant intended that the statement be understood as a threat. Id."

    So intent to kill someone like Gary Johnson is OK?

    "If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J."

    Well, I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, But LeBron wasn't even born yet in 1969.

  18. Damon says:

    Jez went too far. I'm cool with outting the kids, reporting them smacks of meanness. Think they do the same if the tweets were about republicans?

  19. Audrius says:

    Not directly related, but I have to ask after reading Jezebel…
    Why calling somebody a monkey is considered racist? Sure it could be considered insult… but racism? And if I call somebody a skunk? Its racist or not? A pig? Black widow? Black horse?

    My questions might sound silly, but I'm not from the US so I don't quite get it…

  20. Grifter says:

    Audrius, the equating of black people with monkeys is a pretty well-known racist trope, and is common among assholes in the US. While I don't think it's necessarily inherently racist rhetoric, particularly with kids who might not know the usage, on the flip side most of the kids saying it are also using the N-word, talking about lynching, wanting a white president etc., so my "benefit of the doubt" gauge runneth empty.

  21. Dan Weber says:

    How about outing their parents instead?

    Even better, let's find if they have posted nekkid pictures on Craigslist, and then host them on a website!

    Seriously though, a distant relation of mine had her facebook and/or twitter seized by "friends," who posted messages like "I think I'm a lesbian, but I sure do like black dick" to her social circle.

    I'm willing to bet that in at least one of these cases we're talking about now, the kid had "friends" post something with their account designed to get as big a reaction as possible. (I'm also sure many of the kids are claiming this, and I don't believe most of them, but given how stupid kids are, in a land of 300 million people, it's given that at least a few thought this would be a funny joke to play.)

    And the answer isn't "well, they should secure their feeds better." Yea, they should, but it's not so we can feel so we can turn off the parts of our brains that exercise discretion when beating up kids. Most people, at some point in their lives, end up trusting someone they shouldn't. That should not result in a bunch of adults pecking them to death.

  22. Ken says:

    Dan: indeed, in the stories about them, a number of them claimed their Twitter feed had been hijacked. Maybe it's even true for some of them. Often, I suspect, you could evaluate that claim by looking at what they had posted before.

  23. TJIC says:

    @Matthew Cline:

    > > As it is, the Secret Service has to investigate threats by floridly psychotic and severely demented psychiatric inpatients, sometimes against dead presidents.

    > Wait, why do they bother investigating threats against dead presidents?

    Recall that the Secret Service is part of the Treasury, charged with protecting the currency. #its_all_about_the_Benjamins

  24. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    TJIC,

    *snerk*

    General; I think the thing that bothers me most about this kind of Viewing With Alarm of twitter feeds and texts (and phone-photos) is that it takes far too seriously the utterances of teenagers. Teenagers lack subtlety of thought, especially in our society, which prolongs their childhood well into ages that would formerly have had adult responsibilities. Society should decide whether teenagers are adults, subject to adult standards (in which case why mayn't they drink) or children to be cosseted (in which case, these twitter watchers need to chill. The. F*ck. Out.).

    Personally, I think that the unguarded, vulgar, and racist twitter-posts should be dealt with with, say, a clout about the ear-hole. Certainly nothing more serious.

  25. Owen says:

    I have a hard time believing that frequent twitter posts calling the President a nigger can be explained by saying that they 'lack subtlety of thought.' I imagine that the lion's share of the messages are off color jokes, but even a seventeen year old can (and should) understand that tweeting a message saying "No NIGGER should lead this country!!!" is racially offensive. This shouldn't be illegal, of course, but a call to the principal of the school certainly isn't out of line. This is a necessary requirement to teach teenagers that there are consequences for what they tweet, and nipping it with detention while they're in high school is far better than letting them learn it when they're 30 and being fired from their jobs.

  26. This question addressed specific statutes threatening the president, but I have to wonder what statutes apply to threats on the Internet in general. Is it criminal to make a credible threat in a tweet that I'm going to murder a specific person, and if so what are the conditions that apply there?

    Regarding the morality of outing racist minors and encouraging calling their schools and workplaces, I think this a step too far, especially in reaction to a single tweet which may not have been intended seriously. If someone is upon investigation showing a pattern of this kind of behaviour over time, I would start with e-mailing their parents and trying to get it handled inside the home. If a school or workplace's equipment is being used, I could see temporarily banning them from using that equipment as punishment, or blocking their access to social media, but this is pretty hard to determine unless they're doing logging/filtering. I could certainly see a school or workplace taking action if it's affecting class/business, like if they start delivering their racist screeds to customers.

    I also wonder whether someone might take advantage of this kind of response to defame, by imitating a person they dislike with a false account, then exaggerating their views. This may already be occurring.

  27. Mike says:

    @TJIC, not since 2003, when they were moved to the Dept. of Homeland Security.

  28. Lizard says:

    @Owen — a school imposing detention on a student because they expressed an idea the school disagrees with (especially when done outside of school) is a bad precedent, and probably unconstitutional for any public school.

    Social opprobrium is the best punishment for anti-social behavior, but this can only occur as a result of the teen's peers deciding they don't want to *voluntarily* associate with him. (Employers can choose to fire employees who are a detriment to their business, as well, so there's that.)

  29. Andrew Roth says:

    A clarification on dead presidents: What I've been told is that psychiatric hospital staff sometimes err on the side of caution and report farfetched threats by confused patients to the Secret Service on the off chance that a patient might attempt to carry out a threat against a sitting or living president. Some of these patients don't know Clinton from Carter from FDR, but as a matter of liability, if nothing else, the staff want to make sure that they don't, say, discharge some angry old coot home to a house full of guns without informing the Secret Service of any assassination shit-talking he's done during his hospitalization, just in case. When they call the field office, they'll tell the desk agent that the threat came from a mentally ill inpatient who they don't seriously expect to follow through. There's a good chance that the desk agent will agree that the threat is probably innocuous, but he'll still send a field agent or two out to the hospital to interview the patient and floor staff as a precaution unless he's absolutely sure that there's no chance of harm being done to a dignitary.

    "Probably not" isn't good enough for the Secret Service when protective details are concerned. Its agents are selected and trained to deal with the tedium and the bullshit of protective details, and they'd rather interview hundreds of nutcases about total bullshit than let a single true threat slip through the deluge of nuttery. That's the same reason that agents take the local shit-talking nuts out for coffee when the president or vice president is in town. The nuts probably won't follow through on any of their bluster, but it's better safe than sorry.

    A bit of relevant hidden history: JFK might well have gone on to serve a second term and live a long life had he heeded the Secret Service's admonition to please, please not ride in open motorcades when there were active, credible threats against him in Dallas and Miami. Instead, he heeded his sense of vigah, and in the grandest Kennedy tradition he died of it.

  30. Andrew Roth says:

    I may sound like I'm brownnosing the Secret Service, but I really think it's one agency that at least comes pretty close to living up to its reputation. It certainly comes closer than the FBI. Its agents sound quite a bit more disciplined as a group and seem to do a better job of staying above the fray of the idiotic federal turf wars.

    I don't think this appearance is merely the result of the Secret Service being more competent at hiding the skeletons in its closet. After all, the CIA devotes immense energy to hiding its skeletons, often with some success, but they still get out, in large part because they're so numerous and grisly.

    I should also clarify that I'm not trying to defend the litigious, ass-covering culture that forces hospital staff to report totally incredible threats to law enforcement. Nor am I arguing that the deluge of frivolous threats doesn't lower the signal-to-noise ratio and make it more difficult for agents to be alert and responsive when serious threats arise; the sheer tedium of sorting the wheat from the chaff must be mindnumbing.

    What I am arguing is that Secret Service agents are as diligent and competent as those of any law enforcement agency and that they're better than most at sorting the wheat from the chaff, in good work conditions and bad. If any law enforcement officers deserve to get deluged with the sort of retaliatory complaints that Jezebel and its ilk are abetting, it's the class of small-town beat cop who fancies himself Columbo.

  31. AlphaCentauri says:

    It's not that easy to tell who is a real threat or how much action is justified to stop them. John Hinckley Jr. was obsessed with the actress from a movie about a guy planning to assassinate the president, and he stalked Jimmy Carter before he got his shot at Reagan.

  32. AlphaCentauri says:

    As far as the Jezebel articles: I sympathize with the idea that one should confront racism to make it clear it's not socially acceptable. But going after kids and calling their principals is just being lazy. What about contacting their parents? Or would that be too uncomfortable, since the parents won't just shut up and/or apologize like a school administrator?

  33. Tarrou says:

    I'm a bit surprised at the number of people on this blog who are for tracking down minors who express unpopular opinions and attempting to have them punished by the authorities. I guess racism is one of those "special" opinions that people aren't supposed to be allowed to have. But, of course, we're all for freedom of speech, no one contests that. But you can't shout fire etc etc, and this is just gosh my stars, quick, someone get me pearls to clutch, there are teenagers being offensive! Someone DO something!

  34. wgering says:

    @AlphaCentauri: consider that the parents are quite possibly the type of people who raise kids who go on racially-motivated Twitter polemics. With the prevalence of the "little angel" mentality (which I swear has become virulent and airborne), the parents might even defend their child's dumb-fuckery.

    Personally, I think high school students could do with a little more public criticism. If the educational system can't teach them to not be dicks, maybe the internet can.

  35. wgering says:

    @Tarrou: I think you're conflating calls for criticism with calls for punishment.

    It seems to me that the punitive measures discussed here are neither authoritarian nor censorious, and don't involve any "real-world" consequences. A stern talking-to from a school principal isn't (at least in theory) a means to prevent speech; rather, it can hopefully inspire a little more thought in future speech.

  36. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Owen;

    All I'm saying is that I don't take the statements of teens seriously. Teens, especially teen boys, are prone to say thing intended to shock because their evolutionary programming is telling them to fight with the alpha-ape, get thrown out of the ape-pack, and start a new ape-pack with one or more young females. This makes them prone to come out with outrageousness.

    Twitter posts are weird in that they are (by custom, anyway) supposed to be dashed-off improvisation, but they actually have a permanence that spoken statements don't. Adults who think realize this, and either consider their twitter posts carefully, or don't make any. But that's a little subtle for most teens. Indeed, as a casual survey of twitter-post based scandals might indicate, it's a little subtle for a whole lot of adults too.

  37. Tarrou says:

    wgering, maybe the kids get a stern talking to. Maybe they get expelled. And maybe the Secret Service gets called on them. The whole issue of Ken's post was the legal issues, which presupposes some sort of prosecution. The interpersonal "name and shame" is fatuous and hypocritical enough, though certainly within "free speech" grounds. There's more than a whiff of the authoritarian impulse, however, in "publicizing" things like this specifically to the authorities in the vague hopes that something bad happens to these nebulous offensive kids. Then, of course, when something bad does happen (as is inevitable if this is carried far enough), perhaps the more morally indiscriminate amongst us can then reverse ourselves and claim that we only wanted lots of people to be mean to them! We didn't want their rights curtailed! And secretly perhaps, we'll think that even though a principle has been violated, it couldn't have happened to a nicer "douchebag". There's another word for it, and its "unprincipled".

  38. Grifter says:

    @Tarrou:

    I believe only Owen and wgering defended any talk to school administrators. The rest of the posters on here were pretty uniformly against talking to administrators due to the chilling nature inherent in that.

    There is a principled difference between publicly saying "This guy's a douchebag" and attempting to get a person of authority to intervene; do you not see that?

  39. James Pollock says:

    "There is a principled difference between publicly saying "This guy's a douchebag" and attempting to get a person of authority to intervene; do you not see that?"

    Depends on what you mean by "intervene". For example, perhaps I want the person of authority to ALSO publicly say "This guy's a douchebag". Or perhaps, I would like the person of authority to say "This guy's a douchebag, Please, all you other persons under my authority, don't be douchebags like this guy".

    Then, there's a possible application of "broken-window" theory. Some people who start by saying stupid things go on to doing stupid things to doing stupid criminal things. Perhaps a proper "intervention" at the "saying stupid things" stage keeps the kid(s) from continuing down the path to the "doing stupid criminal things" stage. Note that this doesn't mean that everybody who says stupid things should be treated like they are doing stupid criminal things, for abstract philosophical reasons and the cold, practical reason that EVERYONE is capable of saying something remarkably stupid. But the ones that are saying stupid things AND starting to be DOING stupid things as well, well, that should receive some attention.

    If "intervention" means "punishment", well, the parents are the only persons of authority who should be applying that kind of intervention.

  40. Tarrou says:

    Grifter, absolutely there is a difference, one which I drew in my post. I still think it's a bit of mote in my neighbors eye, beam in my own to go trolling about the intarwubs searching for teenagers to look down on, but absolutely it is not authoritarian to do so, only pathetic. But, as you admit, there are those who, even on a civil liberties blog, are willing to have minors expelled, harassed or imprisoned for having improper thoughts, and saying so publicly. It pays to remember exactly how far people are willing to let free speech go before they start looking about the edges for ways to subvert it.

  41. Grifter says:

    @Tarrou:

    I guess I was just confused by your original post remarking on "the number of people on this blog who are for tracking down minors who express unpopular opinions and attempting to have them punished by the authorities" when that number appeared to be one (as of your original post, though wgering's reply seemed to make it two, and now it may be three, depending on what James Pollock's ramblings were on about.)

  42. Ae Viescas says:

    Is it "outing" to look at a public Twitter account and contact people associated with the user?

    Frankly as long as the school doesn't go crazy and expel the students for it (unfortunately you can't rule that out) I think it's a good lesson to not to act like an idiot in public before they find themselves applying for a job somewhere that won't appreciate racial epithets…

  43. AlphaCentauri says:

    @wgering: yes, that's exactly what I was getting at. If they feel strongly enough about racism to stand up to the high school students — who are politically powerless — then they should be willing to stand up to the parents who spawned them. Otherwise it's just a cheap shot.

  44. wgering says:

    I believe I was unclear.

    If these students feel responsible enough to create and use something like a Twitter account, I think they should be held to similar standards as adults using those same services. If an adult says something stupid or offensive on Twitter (looking at you C&C), he can expect other brain-possessing users to call him out for it. If indeed these are " teenagers whose public Twitter accounts feature their real names," then the implication is that they may face real-world consequences for things they post there. They knew (or at least should have known) that when they created the accounts.

    My hope in contacting the school administration is that the administrators would have the sense to not blow it out of proportion and instead make a sincere effort to try to steer these kids away from becoming the next Chance Trahan. You know, the kind of thing they might do if they actually gave a shit about the students?

    Measures beyond a sound tongue-lashing and/or public shame would be excessive and counterproductive.

    I don't want "to have minors expelled, harassed or imprisoned for having improper thoughts, and saying so publicly." I just want them to understand that freedom of expression comes with the consequences of that expression, consequences that I don't think should be lessened or withheld simply because these people are under eighteen.

    @AlphaCentauri: glad we're on the same page then.

  45. Grifter says:

    @wgering:

    I think contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school is inherently a bad thing. Any action the administrator takes stands a good chance of being inappropriate; it's not as though we (or the people who were contacting the administrators) know what kind of personal relationship these administrators have with the students which might excuse and make less inappropriate their intervention.

    What a kid does outside of school is outside of school, and administration shouldn't be coming down on them.

    I think of the "fags die, god laughs" sort of religious behavior, and wonder if you'd think it would be appropriate for an administrator to give a student "tongue lashing and/or public shame" for that even if their behavior in school has been impeccable.

  46. Tarrou says:

    "My hope in contacting the school administration is that the administrators would have the sense to not blow it out of proportion"

    And do you feel that this is a reasonable hope, based on the quality of our public school administrations in this country? You know, the ones who tried to have five year olds arrested for sexual assault, and punish children for aggressively brandishing a slice of pizza? More to the point, some schools expel students for even tweeting profanity on their own, so your "hope" is not even that, it is naivete taken to reckless extremes. Or were you precisely hoping the opposite, and hoping more that no one would notice?

    http://www.wkrn.com/story/16325409/gun-shaped-pizza-slice

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120326/04334818242/high-school-student-expelled-tweeting-profanity-principal-admits-school-tracks-all-tweets.shtml

  47. Andrew Roth says:

    IMO, it's a bad idea to contact school administrators about the behavior of their students. There are just too many school administrators who think of themselves as prison wardens but lack the street smarts of a competent warden or guard, and so they turn into sniveling, officious petty tyrants who lord it over their students. With sadly rare exceptions, they are exactly the sort of people who should be cut out of the loop whenever possible.

    In the same vein, the police should be brought into student disciplinary matters only in truly serious situations, e.g., ongoing criminal enterprises operating on school grounds or credible threats to cause injury or death. Even then, I'd argue that primary jurisdiction should be ignored and the report be made to the most competent, disciplined and responsible agency with plausible jurisdiction. The point is to keep showboating sworn asshats with delusions of grandeur and their useless Podunk agencies from fubaring the investigation because they have too much time on their hands and too little relevant experience. I've had more dealings that I'd wish upon anyone with bad small-town, rural and suburban cops, cops whose agencies are most likely to have primary jurisdiction at unified school district campuses, and I cannot exaggerate how stupid, grandiose, paranoid and generally unfit for duty those cops can be.

  48. Lizard says:

    Criticism to correct social deviance only works if the deviant respects the critic and seeks their approval or good-will. This rarely is the case WRT to students and administrators.

    In other words, if a fellow student says, "Dude, you're being an asshole.", the dude might listen. If a school administrator does this, the student will mumble "Yeah, whatever." and then brag about how "I totally got under the skin of that lame-ass vice principal. He's all like 'Don't be a racist', and I'm all like 'fuck you, I'll do what I want'."

    And, of course, this places administrators in the uncomfortable position of either punishing students for off-campus speech (probably illegal) or dealing with "We informed the principal of Strom Thurmond High School that one of his students made racist comments, and he has NOT yet implemented our suggested programming of 10 hours of consciousness raising classes per week to teach tolerance and diversity. We cannot have a diverse and multicultural society if people are allowed to say things that the majority finds offensive!"

  49. Andrew Roth says:

    There is some really disturbing stuff in this country at the intersection of political correctness, sniveling officialdom, teenage asshattery, and working-class rage. It's a serious, underreported clusterfuck of pathologies that the mainstream media shove down the Memory Hole whenever possible. I include most of the major outlets that are nominally "conservative" or "Christian" in this critique, too, since they're pushing their own facile and ultimately destructive glosses.

    I look back on my time at Cedar Crest Middle School in Lebanon, PA, with horror. I was only a third-party witness to the worst stuff I encountered, but it was bad enough. Disturbingly, the reaction I usually got from fellow students when I expressed my unhappiness with the school was a reiteration of the party-line bullshit that the Cornwall-Lebanon School District was one of the best-funded in the state and that Cedar Crest MS and HS had top 40 national rankings among public schools. I have no idea whether the latter claim was based on bullshit in the tradition of US News and World Report or was just an urban legend, but it was irrelevant to the hideous authoritarian manner in which the middle school was administered. (I transferred to a private school between eighth and ninth grades, so I have no firsthand experience with CCHS, although I've heard credible stories that its administration was better.)

    The district certainly had the money for white elephant construction projects, but no amount of money could fix the cultural nightmare of a pants-shitting managerial-class administration trying and failing to maintain order among a fractious student body whose middle-class segment cowered in fear of the West Side Story, redneck Klansman and Rust Belt white trash segments. The school also had at least its fair share of sanctimonious jerks who noisily proclaimed themselves "Christians;" probably over two thirds of the students were devout churchgoers, but the ones who really let their acquaintances hear about it were trouble.

    It's luck, probably combined with relatively intact, geographically tight extended families, that has spared Cedar Crest from a Columbine-style massacre. There is no way in hell that the campus lacks the social pathology to provoke some angry loner to mass murder. So when I think of disaffected students from a school like that graduating into a job market in which they're penalized for youthful racist behavior, what immediately comes to my mind is George Sodini, Timothy McVeigh, and the white supremacist "militias."

    In that light, the sheltered coastal twits at outlets like Jezebel are stupid, if not also unpatriotic, to provoke people like that. If I sound alarmist, believe me, I was there. It scared the hell out of me at the time, and the reason I don't dwell on it these days is that I've been lucky enough to have pretty much stayed out of that environment for the last fifteen years. If Lebanon is any indication, our small towns and suburbs are metastable at best, and our country's punctuated equilibrium of workplace and school massacres shows that this metastability tends to collapse violently.

  50. Andrew Roth says:

    @Lizard 3:27pm:

    Exactly. A lot of the kids who get sent to the principal's office for being assholes fancy themselves badass deviants. The very purpose of their provocative behavior is to impress other badass deviants by pissing off the authorities and the square students. Their targets have almost certainly already alienated them by being haughty and dismissing them as irredeemably uncouth.

    I think this explains the hardon that so many Americans get from the Confederate battle flag. They figure that they've already been written off by the mainstream, so they might as well cast their lot with an earlier subculture that was written off by the mainstream of its own generation but still proudly whupped as much Yankee ass as it could.

    It's worth repeating until the cosseted chattering classes finally get it that regardless of how offensive one finds these attitudes, they exist, they won't just go away, and American society doesn't have a prayer of banishing them to the history books until it starts treating the white working class equitably and honestly.

    Looking at the longue duree of American culture, with its disingenuous, cutthroat "aspirational" values, I fear that the poor, and their noxious attitudes, we will have with us always.

  51. James Pollock says:

    Tarrou:
    "And do you feel that this is a reasonable hope, based on the quality of our public school administrations in this country?"
    I suppose it depends on which handful of public school administrators one is most familiar with.

    Grifter:
    "I think contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school is inherently a bad thing."
    Why? Is there some kind of magical barrier that keeps what happens in school inside and what happens outside the school outside?
    To take an obviously grossly exaggerated made-up example, suppose you have a student who is known to enjoy shooting things. He's across the street from the school right now, holding a rifle… telling the administrators about this would be an inherently bad thing.

    "What a kid does outside of school is outside of school, and administration shouldn't be coming down on them."
    Agreed… if it doesn't affect the school.

  52. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    So any of these kids holding rifles and pointing them at schools, or doing anything remotely similar?

    No?

    Okay then. That's one of those "has no bearing on present discussion and is a narrow, sophistry-based exception to the rule of thumb I stated". If it makes you feel better, I'll qualify "What a kid does outside of school is outside of school, and barring there being a direct threat to safety the administration shouldn't be coming down on them."

    Suicidal tendencies expressed outside of school would also be something I could expect an administrator to step in about. And it's also something that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

  53. Grifter says:

    I assumed that the context of the discussion would be enough to qualify what I meant by "things".

  54. Tarrou says:

    James, it doesn't so much matter what I'm familiar with. Taking any information whatsoever, much less insinuations and accusations of racism to a school administrator and "hoping they don't overreact" is a bit like handing a panhandler fifty bucks and hoping he doesn't spend it on getting smashed. You can do it, sure, but it makes you a drooling idiot at best. In the modern age of "Zero tolerance", where kids are expelled for squirt guns, sporks, playing tag and american flag t-shirts, to expect reason, measured responses or any sense of balance or proportion whatsoever from these officious imbeciles is beyond the standard of what a reasonable person could conceive. Of course, the "overreaction" is exactly what some people may be looking for, though certainly they'd deny it here, were that the case.

  55. wgering says:

    @Tarrou: you are quite correct to point out that my hope is not in line with reality. That's why it's only hope.

    I wold like to believe that Jezebel had similar intentions (although again, probably not the case) and are not, in fact, a bunch of nosy invertebrates who can't handle somebody saying a mildly offensive thing about the president on Twitter.

    Question though: suppose a student posted these things using a school computer on school time. Would that merit administrative punishment?

  56. AlphaCentauri says:

    The school computer should be blocking access to Twitter and the school policy should prohibit using a proxy to get around that block. It's hard enough for teachers to keep students attention without them tweeting in class.

  57. Tarrou says:

    wgering, you miss the point. I can hope that the roast I put in the crockpot will turn out tender. Based on past experience, maybe a coinflip of a chance. That is reasonable hope, not certain, but certainly not impossible. Or I could hope that it turns out to be fried chicken, which while technically possible, has a vanishingly small incidence. Your hope, that no school administrator anywhere will "overreact" is of the second type. It would be like me saying I oppose the drug war, then reporting my neighbor for smoking pot to the police four times a day, and claiming that I never meant for them to arrest him! I'm shocked and outraged that they would overreact like that! Specifically reporting offensive speech to school administrators or any other authority figure is meant to cause a reaction. And that action most reasonably will be their restriction of free speech. So you can be a free speech advocate, but when you start shopping other people's speech to those with the power to restrict it, I have to question your sincerity.

  58. James Pollock says:

    Tarrou, you're engaging in the fallacy of applying the excesses of a few cases against the majority. Saying "in a world where X, Y, and Z are possible, to expect anything other than X, Y, and Z." is not a logical conclusion.

    I suppose it's my own fault for trying to point this out. After all, in a world where Chance and Craig have Internet access, to expect any Internet commenter to have any ability to process information logically is beyond the standard of what a reasonable person could conceive.

  59. James Pollock says:

    "So any of these kids holding rifles and pointing them at schools, or doing anything remotely similar? No? Okay then. That's one of those "has no bearing on present discussion and is a narrow, sophistry-based exception to the rule of thumb I stated"."

    OK, Grifter, you got me.
    The obviously grossly exaggerated made-up example I offered is grossly exaggerated and totally made up. But you didn't actually answer the question, which is "why is contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school inherently a bad thing?" (even if you exclude obviously grossly exaggerated made-up examples for being obviously grossly exaggerated and made-up.)

  60. Lizard says:

    @James: The existence of a small degree of possibility does not mean one should ignore probability. The most probable result of contacting school administrators is to have them seek to punish students for speech they are constitutionally permitted to engage in, something public schools should not do. Further, it sets a cultural expectation that such speech is criminal and that a failure of authorities to punish said speech is a failure to execute their duties properly. It leads to morons asking, "Why isn't so-and-so in jail for hate crimes?" when they say something offensive in public. The number of people who believe that a "hate crime" can consist solely of speech under US law is depressingly large; why make it larger?

    Alerting administrators to student behavior is not "inherently" a bad thing, if you choose to include every possible behavior, because there will always be a handful of edge cases where it's reasonable. However, it is USUALLY a bad thing, because school administrators are already mostly swaggering, tin-plated dictators with delusions of godhood, and anything that encourages them to think they should be allowed to punish students for activities which are legal and which take place off school grounds is just going to make them even worse human beings than they already are.

    We do not yet have a deaprtment of pre-crime. We should not encourage any representative of the state to punish, discipline, or even NOTICE what people are doing when they are not under their direct control, especially when those things are *legal*. Penalizing a student — or anyone — for *legal* activities is simply ridiculous. Private schools can get away with it, because students (or their guardians) sign contracts explicitly authorizing them to enforce off-campus conduct rules, but public schools, backed by the authority (and guns) of the government, cannot. As I think I mentioned above, at most, participation in extracurricular activities can be dependent on meeting certain standards of conduct, though I don't know of legal cases which might test this.

    Having administrators punish students for legal speech will not make them think about the moral or ethical correctness of their actions; it will only make them resentful and teach them that the idea of free speech is a sham, that you're only "free" to say what the people in power wish to hear. This makes them all the more willing to support restrictions on others' speech. This is not a lesson I want taught with my tax dollars.

  61. Tarrou says:

    James, I'll ignore your ad hominem for now, but know that that was a brilliant bit of hypocrisy, accuse another of fallacious reasoning, then finish with a fallacy. Your assertion of generalizing the specific is techically correct, but in this case I believe is warranted. We are not talking about the probability of roast beefs, after all. We are talking about the likelihood of people being deprived of a basic human right. With this as the consequence, the number of administrators who do not violate these rights is immaterial. What matters is that we can be quite sure that some administrators will violate these rights, and therefore any support of actions which lead to this necessarily is support of the violation of the right of free speech. Your correction of my "fallacy" is a defense that postulates that some violation of free speech is ok, as long as it is specific, rather than general. I, on the other hand, argue that one violation is too many, and therefore the exact incidence of violation is not necessary to bolster the argument.

  62. Angstela says:

    I'd have much rather seen Jezebel contact the kids and just ask them questions about what they posted and why they'd put it out there. Did they think it was appropriate? Was that sort of thing common at their school? In their homes? Would they be concerned about future college admissions folks or employers seeing it? &c. &c. I really didn't get calling their principals except from the narrow perspective that most of them were athletes who'd agreed to certain public "codes of conduct" the tweets obviously violated. Whether schools can require such things just for a kid to run track, well, that's something else entirely.

  63. Dan Weber says:

    I'd have much rather seen Jezebel contact the kids and just ask them questions about what they posted and why they'd put it out there.

    But there's nothing quite as pleasing to our primal lizard brains (no offense to Mr Lizard) as hearing your enemies beg you for mercy.

  64. James Pollock says:

    "The most probable result of contacting school administrators is to have them seek to punish students for speech they are constitutionally permitted to engage in"
    That's a rather broad statement. I'm certainly not going to deny that it can happen, but I think I can stand firm in denying that it's CERTAIN to happen. I think I'm on pretty firm ground denying that it's "most probable". As I stated in the first place, I think this assumption will vary depending on exactly which school administrators one has interacted most recently/frequently.

    "something public schools should not do."
    Here we have agreement.

    "Further, it sets a cultural expectation that such speech is criminal and that a failure of authorities to punish said speech is a failure to execute their duties properly."
    Or, it sets a cultural expectatation that such speech is worth taking note of, and that a failure of authorities to punish said speech is because they know what they're doing. This would seem directly related to the point above. People who believe categorically that school administrators are incapable of performing even the simplest aspects of their jobs would assume otherwise. People who believe that school administrators do know their jobs and that most of them perform the tasks necessary as best they are able with the information they have available will disagree, based not on observations of actual fact, but on how their belief system affects their intake of information. Not much to be done about that, alas.

    "school administrators are already mostly swaggering, tin-plated dictators with delusions of godhood, and anything that encourages them to think they should be allowed to punish students for activities which are legal and which take place off school grounds is just going to make them even worse human beings than they already are."
    Guess I know which category you belong to, if I didn't already, huh? My experience is otherwise, YMMV.

    "We do not yet have a deaprtment of pre-crime. We should not encourage any representative of the state to punish, discipline, or even NOTICE what people are doing when they are not under their direct control, especially when those things are *legal*. "
    You don't? We do. It's actual name is the "office of community involvement, and one of its main goals is to keep kids out of gangs. See also "PAL", or "police activities league".

    Say, you DID notice that I said the only persons of authority who should actually punish children who act such as the original article describes are the parents, right?

    "Penalizing a student — or anyone — for *legal* activities is simply ridiculous."
    Context. Schools absolutely do penalize students who blow off studying for exams and completing homework to go partake in other activities, legal or not. That's not what you mean, of course.

    "As I think I mentioned above, at most, participation in extracurricular activities can be dependent on meeting certain standards of conduct, though I don't know of legal cases which might test this."
    Why, this was right in my neighborhood, as one of the local school districts decided to drug-test every athlete, whether they were suspected of using drugs or not. The Supreme Court said OK.

    "Having administrators punish students for legal speech will not make them think about the moral or ethical correctness of their actions; it will only make them resentful and teach them that the idea of free speech is a sham."
    You should save this argument for someone who disagrees with you.

  65. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    I think it's fair to ask what you think an appropriate response from an administrator is. And what you think is the most likely response. And what response you think the Jez folks were trying to elicit.

    Being passing familiar with them, I do not give the Jezebel folks any benefit of doubt as to what they wanted. They wanted the administration to drop the hammer on these kids, to punish them. (Calls were placed to the principals and superintendents of those schools to find out how calling the president—or any person of color, for that matter—a "nigger" and a "monkey" jibes with their student conduct code of ethics.)

    Further, I believe it is incredibly likely the administration will respond inappropriately, particularly if they fear a media response of some kind. There are dozens of illustrative examples, and precious few stories headlined "Principal stands behind freedom of speech".

  66. James Pollock says:

    "James, I'll ignore your ad hominem for now, but know that that was a brilliant bit of hypocrisy, accuse another of fallacious reasoning, then finish with a fallacy."
    It's called "reductio ad absurdum".

    "We are talking about the likelihood of people being deprived of a basic human right."
    We are? Not having the school administrators of the school you go to get told about it when you do something stupid is a basic human right? I thought we were talking about the fact that your assumptions about the actions of school administrators being based on a fallacious premise.

    "What matters is that we can be quite sure that some administrators will violate these rights, and therefore any support of actions which lead to this necessarily is support of the violation of the right of free speech."
    OK, let's follow this one down the rabbit-hole. Some parents abuse their children (the right to be free from abuse is important, so the actual number is immaterial). Therefore, when teachers allow their students to go home, they're supporting child abuse! But wait! Some teachers have sex with their students (the right to be free from molestation is also pretty important, so the actual number is immaterial, as long is it's not 0.00), so sending your kids to school supports child sex abuse! It doesn't even end there… some children are murdered, so having kids in the first place is supporting child murder.
    The proper remedy for schoolchildren (or anyone else) having their civil rights violated by school teachers (or anyone else acting as a state actor) is a civil rights suit, not an attempt to muzzle the free speech of citizens. The kids are legally allowed to say nasty racist things, even if it offends other people. The people who are offended are legally allowed to notify the kids' parents, the kids' clergy, the kids' local police, and/or the kids' school, even if it offends you. Which part of this equation do you disagree with?

    "Your correction of my "fallacy" is a defense that postulates that some violation of free speech is ok"
    Where did you get that from?

    "I, on the other hand, argue that one violation is too many, and therefore the exact incidence of violation is not necessary to bolster the argument."
    And you're down the rabbit-hole so far, you've come up on the other side. Here's another variation, police sometimes violate the rights of suspects (one violation is too many!), so by your logic, calling the police to report a crime is wrong. And then we compound the problem… since trials sometimes come up with incorrect guilty verdicts (one is too many!) holding a criminal trial for the suspect is ALSO wrong.

  67. James Pollock says:

    "I think it's fair to ask what you think an appropriate response from an administrator is. And what you think is the most likely response. And what response you think the Jez folks were trying to elicit."

    Fair enough. But since I've had to ask you three times now for the answer to my question, I think you should go first.

    why is contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school inherently a bad thing?

  68. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    Fair enough.

    First, I believe I may have misused inherent, or at least been unclear with my usage (with gratitude to Lizard).

    To answer the question, though: because considering it's none of their concern, and it's not something I feel they should act on (bearing in mind the obvious exceptions to that concept which are directly threatening), contacting them serves, in my mind, only the purpose of attempting to get them into some kind of trouble for behavior that should not be penalized by the school.

    School administrators are governmental authorities. While they have special powers as they relate directly to the school, that authority ends where the school does, and even if the administrators do little more than call them in to talk to them, I feel it has the same "chilling" effect that the police have if they swing by your house to have a chat about your politically inconvenient statements and tell you how "it's perceived" by "people" (again, ignoring obvious exceptions).

    Therefore, I believe that contacting administrators about things of this nature is an "inherently" bad thing, because there is no reasonable justification that isn't a bad thing to do it. If I do not believe that the Jez folks thought that there was any credible threat here (and I do not believe that), and I do not believe the Jez folks had any reason to believe the behavior was happening at school (and I do not believe they did), there is no reason for them to contact the administrators that is anything but a petty maneuver that hopes for authoritarian abuse of power.

  69. James Pollock says:

    OK, I'll offer a counter-assumption or two.
    First, I think it's fairly unlikely that people who act like buttheads outside of school don't also, from time to time, act like buttheads in school, as well.
    Second, I think there's a big difference between the applicability of action "for things of this type" and "for anything that happens outside of school".
    Third, school administrators are given responsibility for what happens in the schools, and stuff that happens outside has repercussions inside as well, and vice versa.
    Thus, while on a practical basis, there may be very little that a school administrator can do to push rebellious teens back onto the straight and narrow (and concede that the extent they should be trying to (as opposed to the parents responsibility to do so) is highly debatable).
    The school administrators are being given more information, and having more information as opposed to less information when making decisions is generally better.

    "I think it's fair to ask what you think an appropriate response from an administrator is."
    It depends. Most likely, the added information content of the message is nil, because the administrators probably already know which students are prone to acting like buttheads (of whatever fashion), and so informing them that student X and student Y are acting like buttheads should produce no response at all other than a polite thank-you for the information. On the off chance that student X poses a threat to the safety of themselves, other students, or school property, it should be dealt with. If the information does come as a surprise, administrators should look to see what response, if any, is appropriate (with a very high likelihood that contacting the parent(s) is the most appropriate response.) Of course, even if an appropriate response IS selected, there's bound to be a vocal minority of some kind, possibly more than one, that is unsatisfied, perhaps deeply so. This is just one of many, many reasons why I don't work as a school administrator.

    "And what you think is the most likely response."
    You want me to predict the response of people I don't know, and in fact have only third-hand (at best!) information on?

    "And what response you think the Jez folks were trying to elicit."
    See above. Why do I care what they were trying for? People buying lottery tickets are trying to elicit a response of the lottery spokesmodel handing them the big giant novelty check with all the zeroes on it. Doesn't mean they get it.

    "Being passing familiar with them, I do not give the Jezebel folks any benefit of doubt as to what they wanted. They wanted the administration to drop the hammer on these kids, to punish them."
    Um, OK. So what?

    "Further, I believe it is incredibly likely the administration will respond inappropriately"
    It's certainly possible. How many school districts are there in this country? I guarantee that every single one of them has students that act like buttheads from time to time. And yes, there are some that will react inappropriately (some inappropriately leveling punishment for things that do not affect the school, some inappropriately defending not only the students but what they had to say. And a whole lot of them deal with periodically butthead-minded students quickly and effectively without grossly violating the rights of the students as you imagine they all (or perhaps, merely most of them) will.

    "…particularly if they fear a media response of some kind."
    Of course, some school districts (including the one whose borders encompass my home) have PR specialists to deal with media response. It doesn't take much to draft a press release that says "we don't approve of what the students did or said, and to the extent that it has repercussions inside the school, it is being dealt with; to the extent that they don't, go complain to the parents, not us." OK, they wouldn't actually come right out and say that last part, but it'd be in there none the less.

    "There are dozens of illustrative examples"
    Dozens, out of the thousands and thousands of school districts and schools that exist in our nation… which are dealing with rebellious teenagers day in, day out, year after year.

    "precious few stories headlined "Principal stands behind freedom of speech"."
    Perhaps because things that happen all the time aren't treated as news. Most likely, because when they get it wrong, it takes a great hue and cry to fix things, but when they get it right in the first place, it doesn't. People remember the hue and cry, and forget the dull and mundane.

  70. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    Are you maintaining you feel that the motives of the Jez folks don't matter at all?

    And are you saying you think that calling someone in authority about something about which they should do nothing is a good decision that is more likely than not to lead to good repercussions as regards to the students' rights?

    "On the off chance that student X poses a threat to the safety of themselves, other students, or school property, it should be dealt with." That scenario, again, has nothing to do with the current scenario.

    The present scenario is a group of people wanting to get some high school students in trouble for what is clearly protected speech, and contacting the administrators of their schools in hopes of doing that. If they succeed, they have done a bad thing, and so have the administrators. If they fail, they have still done a bad thing in contacting the administration for the sole purpose of getting these kids in trouble. Which is why I said it was an "inherently a bad thing".

  71. James Pollock says:

    "Are you maintaining you feel that the motives of the Jez folks don't matter at all?"
    I'm maintaining that I don't care. Also, that I'm a little unclear on why it matters to you. It apparently does. But, as it turns out, I don't particularly care about that, either.

    "And are you saying you think that calling someone in authority about something about which they should do nothing is a good decision that is more likely than not to lead to good repercussions as regards to the students' rights?"
    I don't recall saying anything remotely like that.
    (and whether ANYTHING leads to good repercussions as regards to the students' rights depends greatly on the individuals involved. Specifically, it depends on how good the officials in charge on the scene are at their jobs. YMMV.)

    ""On the off chance that student X poses a threat to the safety of themselves, other students, or school property, it should be dealt with." That scenario, again, has nothing to do with the current scenario."
    You don't know that for sure, and neither do the officials on the scene until they gather information.

    "The present scenario is a group of people wanting to get some high school students in trouble for what is clearly protected speech, and contacting the administrators of their schools in hopes of doing that."
    You originally categorically covered every event that a student did outside of school. From there to here, where the students engage only in clearly protected speech, is quite a change.

    Let's consider. First, it doesn't matter what people outside the school do if the school administrator acts properly. Whether its one person, or a hundred thousand, makes no difference if the school administrator sees your clearly protected speech, nothing more, and therefore does not infringe the student's rights. From there, we can see that student's rights will only be infringed if the school administrator is poor at his or her job, in which case the fault lies not in the people reporting but in the school administrator who is poor at the job and prone to infringing students' rights.

    "If they succeed, they have done a bad thing, and so have the administrators."
    If they succeed, the administrator has done a bad thing. If anything, the complainers have caused a bad administrator to act badly, thus exposing the badness of that administrator. If you're going to argue that speech that exposes bad public officials is bad, you're not going to find many friends amongst free speech advocates.

    "If they fail, they have still done a bad thing in contacting the administration for the sole purpose of getting these kids in trouble."
    Well, they've wasted the administrators' time. (More likely, the administrators' clerical staff's time.)

    "Which is why I said it was an "inherently a bad thing"."
    Hmm. An analogy seems in order.
    Suppose you have a person who is a fugitive from justice. He's wanted for something, doesn't matter what. He's been hiding in the home of his latest girlfriend, who digs the bad boys. Of course, ideally, being a citizen she would turn him in, but I think we know that isn't going to happen. But wait! She checks his phone one day and finds out he's been texting with another woman, gets mad, and drops a dime on him. In other words, she calls people in authority purely to try to get him in trouble, because she is angry at him. Has she done a bad thing?

  72. Tarrou says:

    "Here's another variation, police sometimes violate the rights of suspects (one violation is too many!), so by your logic, calling the police to report a crime is wrong. "

    Violations of rights by police are wrong, but you miss the crucial point. In the case of a crime, you are reporting the crime. These twitter messages are assumed (here maybe I'm misunderstanding you) to be legal, yes? So the parallel would not be calling the police to report a crime, but to report something which is not a crime. A good, if exaggerated parallel would be a form of "SWATting", where people call the police to report legal behavior in such a manner as to make a response possible, if not likely. No crime has been committed, so there is nothing the police should be concerned with, and reporting a non-crime on the off chance the police "overreact" and shoot someone, or arrest someone falsely, or merely scare the shit out of someone you think is a bad person is not warranted or moral. To make this clear, nothing the kids have done is illegal, and assuming they didn't use school property to send the messages, there is no reason whatsoever for the school administrators to have any knowledge or input on it. Had what the children written risen to the level of a proper threat, which is what this original post is all about disproving, then it would be reasonable to inform the authorities, though in that case school administrators should still probably be passed over in favor of the Secret Service.

  73. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    We have been discussing whether it was a bad thing to contact the administrators. Yes, the motives factor into whether the decision was an 'honest mistake' or not. Had, for example, someone been making legitimate threats, and someone contacted the school they thought the person went to, that would be an "honest mistake". Or if there was a legitimate question as to whether the kids had done anything illegal, or if there were any coherent theory on the part of the contactors that merited contact. But there wasn't.

    This was not an honest mistake, where the contactors genuinely thought these kids were doing something illicit. This was them hoping that they could get these kids in trouble because they disagree with what the kids posted. To not care about motive seems ridiculous, and funny since you're someone who frequently turns to the law to bolster your philosophical points, considering motive is a fairly big factor in law.

    Your analogy fails completely; in it, the person does a 'good thing' for an arguably bad reason. There was nothing 'good' about these people contacting the administrators. Their motive was bad, their reason was bad, and their intended outcome was bad.

    @Tarrou:
    Well said!

  74. Lizard says:

    Perhaps someone could start tracking tweets or FB postings from teens in socially conservative parts of the country who are have questions about their sexual orientation, or who worry they may be pregnant, and forward them to their local church, so that they can receive proper counseling and guidance from well-meaning adults.

    PS: That was "satire", in the Swiftian sense. I feel depressed that I know I need to state this.

  75. Grifter says:

    @Lizard:

    I'd be careful about any Swiftian proposals that involve the church; I'd hate to encourage them to put any childrens' meat in their mouths, y'know?

  76. James Pollock says:

    Grifter, why are you harping on the phrase "honest mistake"? I'm quite willing to accept your (unsubstantiated) claim that every single person contacting the school does so solely for the purpose of getting the students in trouble, even though (so far as we know) the students have offended no law. Why? Because even if it's true, I don't care. Now, I DO care if the school officials violate somebody's rights, but I don't care if they're violating somebody's rights because they got phone calls and emails, or because they themselves are offended by the students speech, or just because they hate children and look for opportunities to oppress them.

    Instead of examining the legal concept of motive, look to the legal concept of "proximate cause" to understand my reasoning here.

  77. James Pollock says:

    "To make this clear, nothing the kids have done is illegal, and assuming they didn't use school property to send the messages, there is no reason whatsoever for the school administrators to have any knowledge or input on it."
    Well, the kids haven't done anything that I know of that's illegal. Proceeding under the assumption that this is true, you're almost correct. School administrators have responsibility for everything that happens in their school. If there were some kind of magic barrier that kept things that happen outside the school from affecting things that happen inside the school, you'd be on firm ground.
    However, since that magic barrier does not exist, school administrators do, in fact, have a need to take note of things that happen outside the school, to the extent that there is a possibility of affecting things inside the school. Thus, there is a wide array of things outside the school for which it is necessary and proper for the school administrators to take note; a somewhat smaller array of things for which it is necessary and proper for the school to notify the parents and/or local law enforcement, and a smaller still array of things for which it is necessary and proper for the school administrators to take direct action.
    Now, it is certainly possible for school administrators to overreact to various situations, and they can and will be rightly criticized for this. It's also certainly possible for school administrators to underreact to various situations, and they can and will be rightly criticized for this. A sad fact of their jobs is that they can even sometimes get it exactly right, and get simultaneously criticized for over-reacting AND under-reacting.

  78. James Pollock says:

    "Perhaps someone could start tracking tweets or FB postings from teens in socially conservative parts of the country who are have questions about their sexual orientation, or who worry they may be pregnant, and forward them to their local church, so that they can receive proper counseling and guidance from well-meaning adults."

    In the Olden Times, this was known as "everyone in town telling my parents when they see me doing something I shouldn't have been doing."

  79. James Pollock says:

    "I'd be careful about any Swiftian proposals that involve the church; I'd hate to encourage them to put any childrens' meat in their mouths, y'know?"
    If any church folks should happen to think that that's a good idea, shouldn't it be easy to derail them by asking if God isn't already doing that?

  80. Grifter says:

    @james pollock:

    You are obfuscating a bit. I said contacting administrators was a bad thing, and among the reasons was the administrators reaction. Motive DOES factor into whether contacting them was a bad thing, hence my "harping" on whether the Jez folks had any legitimate reasoning for contacting. They did not, and so it was a purely douche move. You seem not to care at all about whether contacting the administrators was a bad thing, instead focusing on the administrations reaction, which is curious since you're basically interjecting into a conversation about one topic to say you don't care about that topic unless it affects this other topic.

  81. Lizard says:

    "In the Olden Times, this was known as "everyone in town telling my parents when they see me doing something I shouldn't have been doing.""

    Which is one of many reasons why "olden times" were ages of soul-crushing conformity and misery, and why, for generations, the creative fled their small towns for the safe anonymity of the city.

  82. Grifter says:

    Also, @James Pollock: You get that I was making a double entendre in my comment about the church, right?

  83. James Pollock says:

    "You are obfuscating a bit."
    Where?

    "I said contacting administrators was a bad thing, and among the reasons was the administrators reaction."
    Yes, you retreated to this position after I pointed out that your original claim was just wrong. Even this claim lacks evidence, and remains unconvincing.

    "Motive DOES factor into whether contacting them was a bad thing,"
    This also remains unconvincing for lack of evidence. Furthermore, it is 180 degrees from the position you argued from previously on a different thread.

    "hence my "harping" on whether the Jez folks had any legitimate reasoning for contacting."
    Because they felt like it. You know, the same reason the students had for making the speech THEY made. Since when do you need a "legitimate reason" to exercise your rights?

    "They did not, and so it was a purely douche move."
    Perhaps, perhaps not. That's a different can of worms, of which I want no part. You can have that one.

    "You seem not to care at all about whether contacting the administrators was a bad thing, instead focusing on the administrations reaction,"
    Didn't I read somewhere that contacting the school administrators was a bad thing because of the administrator's reachion?
    Can you not differentiate between "I don't care what motivates the people contacting the school administrators" from "I don't care if contacting the school administrators is a bad thing"? Because the point I made is that if an act is not harmful, it doesn't matter if it was done by reason of mistake, altruism, or purest spite.

  84. Lizard says:

    And if an act IS harfmul, it likewise doesn't matter how pure the motives were.

    Though, I think, it does matter if people whose main desire is to inflict harm try to play the altruist and act as if they are motivated solely by compassion for the poor, wayward, things, when what they want is to see people punished for their thoughts.

    As someone who wallows in schadenfreude, I certainly understand the desire to have those with whom one disagrees held up to public mockery, but I also recognize that organized efforts to do this does not send the message that there are social consequences to speech; it creates a community of victims and martyrs who can tell themselves they're hated because they dared speak truth to power. By involving people with authority, as opposed to just the cultural zeitgeist of the moment, it also sends the message that some speech either is or should be criminal, and that is dangerous for everyone.

  85. James Pollock says:

    "And if an act IS harfmul, it likewise doesn't matter how pure the motives were."

    Not quite, Lizard. If a person does something harmful by accident or through ignorance, and they make a prompt and sincere apology and act to take corrective measures, we let them off the hook.
    Additionally, there are some harmful acts that are so tied in to something else that creates a net good, we (collectively) do the best we can to limit the bad, and then accept the bad with the good.

  86. Lizard says:

    One of the standard concepts used to determine if a person is accountable for the harm they do is the "reasonable man" test (something like the "pink unicorn" test, if you ask me, but I digress) — that is, if someone *claims* innocent or benign motivation, we ask if a "reasonable man" could have foreseen the harm done. Anyone, after all, can claim a lack of malice or a benign intent.

    Would a "reasonable man" believe that either society, or the individual, would be bettered by having the authorities be alerted to socially deviant but otherwise legal acts?

    If the expectation is punishment, then, would a "reasonable man" conclude that having someone punished for acts that are not criminal lead to that person gaining compassion, empathy, and understanding why his actions are morally wrong? Or would a "reasonable man" conclude that the target of punishment would learn that laws are meaningless and that power is an end in itself, and that the proper course of action is to seek to gain power, then use it to punish others?

    If the expectation is not punishment, then, what is the expectation? What goal is served?

    If the expectation of punishment hinges on the false belief that a criminal act HAS been committed, wouldn't it be better to educate those calling for punishment that there is no crime to punish, so that they can be better informed and not waste their time in the future?

    If there is no real expectation of anything being done, but the main purpose is to make oneself feel good about "standing up to racism" in a way that doesn't require actually taking any action that might redress actual wrongs due to centuries of racism and other forms of prejudice, the equivalent of the fundamentalists who eagerly ask their congregations to "pray for the victims of the hurricane", but NOT to donate food or money that might actually do some good (http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2012/11/christ-like-crisis-response/), then, should we not call them on this, rather than offer tepid applause that "at least their hearts are in the right place"?

    You've offered no evidence that reporting racist twits, and their tweets, to "school administrators" will produce any net good; the best you've managed to is to say "You can't PROVE it won't!".

    Thus, this self-proclaimed "reasonable man" concludes that the incident has dubious motives, and will produce no good results, and it is doubtful the folks involved do not know this, whether or not they'll publicly admit to it.

  87. James Pollock says:

    Lizard, I'm going to have to start at the ending.
    "You've offered no evidence that reporting racist twits, and their tweets, to "school administrators" will produce any net good."
    I suppose the main reason I've offered no evidence to support that claim is because that is not the claim I made.
    I did claim that there are a variety of possible outcomes: the school administrators overreact and infringe the rights of one or more students (bad, but the wrong belongs to the school administrators), the school administrators take note of the offered information, determine that there is nothing they can or should do about it, and act accordingly (neutral), the school administrators take note of the information (perhaps in concert with other information obtained from other sources) and are able to forestall or avoid problems (good, but probably impossible to quantify), the school administrators take note of the information but problems with the student(s) occurs anyway (bad, but the wrong belongs to the student(s)). As I detailed above, I would expect that neutral outcome to dominate, the good outcome to be rare, but to have the possibility of occurring, and the bad outcomes to have other, more proximate causes.
    Thus, my position is that reporting racist twits to school administrators is a neutral act (regardless of motivation) and has a very remote possibility of creating a net good result; I can even make a case that if reporting a racist twit causes the school administrator to infringe a student's rights, it's bad for the student and for people who advocate for rights, but is good for society in the same way that exposing wrong behavior in any public official is a good thing. Therefore, my conclusion is that reporting racist twits to school officials is not inherently a bad thing, my original claim. QED.

    "if someone *claims* innocent or benign motivation, we ask if a "reasonable man" could have foreseen the harm done. Anyone, after all, can claim a lack of malice or a benign intent."
    Sure, but that's not how our society operates. If someone says something insensitive or offensive because they didn't know it was offensive (it happens. Actually, it happens a lot in intercultural communications.) but when it is pointed out that what they did/said is offensive, they apologize sincerely and don't do it again, we (generally) consider the matter closed.

    "Would a "reasonable man" believe that either society, or the individual, would be bettered by having the authorities be alerted to socially deviant but otherwise legal acts?"
    I can't speak for your "reasonable man", of course, but our society reports socially deviant but otherwise legal acts all the time. (There's a guy who hangs out down at the schoolyard, watching the children, who doesn't seem to have any kids of his own. There's a guy who keeps following someone whenever they leave the house, showing up at the grocery store, the post office, the office where she works as a receptionist, even the park. There's a guy wearing an orange jumpsuit hitchhiking just down the road from the jailhouse.) Police are allowed to investigate suspicious, but not (yet?) illegal activities. People are allowed to report suspicious behavior that isn't illegal to the police (they're even encouraged to do so every ten minutes or so at the airport.) The general assumption is that the police will figure out what, if anything, needs to be done, should be done, and/or can be done.

  88. Lizard says:

    I rather think this serves as a sterling example of what happens when "school administrators" decide they have an interest in students' personal communications. http://thenextweb.com/facebook/2012/09/14/us-judge-rules-school-district-demanded-facebook-password-12-year-old-girl/

    I'm calling this one closed. (As a side note, your 1950s world where countless busybodies peer out of blinds and spy on everyone in the neighborhood, frantically calling the cops because they thought they saw a (frightened whisper)colored person(/frightened whisper) on the streets after 6 PM, is a delightfully hellish place to live. One of our neighbors, a nice guy, has been harassed several times by the cops, because unidentified (but I know who they are) people reported "suspicious" activities… which weren't suspicious, and in some cases not even real. (For example, he's paid to take care of some of the empty houses in the area, mowing the lawns, maintaining the interiors, and generally keeping them looking good. Some yobbo decided to call the cops because this was "suspicious". Because, you know, thieves normally walk in the open during broad daylight to the house right next door to theirs.) So the police waste their time, and that of my neighbor, because the borderline insane and/or the actively malicious follow your idea of being a "good citizen" and act like agents of the Secret Police, continuously observing and reporting all counter-revolutionary activities, real or imagined, to our doughnut-bloated commissars. )

  89. a chef says:

    Student speech outside of school should not be punished by the school. (The first case on this link is actually student speech IN school that was protected by the courts):

    http://www.freedomforum.org/packages/first/censorshipinternetspeech/part1.htm

    There are many cases in the various parts of that link, here is just one example:

    "B. Beussink v. Woodland R-IV School District126

    Brandon Beussink, then a junior at Woodland High School, created his own homepage on his own computer at his own home.127 The homepage was "highly critical" of the school administration and included vulgar language in his opinions of teachers and the principal.128

    Another student showed Beussink's page at school in the presence of a teacher, who then informed the principal.129 The teacher was upset by the content of the website.130 The principal initially suspended Beussink for five days because he was offended by the content on the site, and he later extended the suspension to ten days.131 The principal testified that the moment he saw Beussink's homepage, he knew he was going to discipline Beussink.132

    District Judge Rodney Sippel analyzed the case under the Tinker standard. According to Sippel, school officials "must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."133 The judge relied on the principal's testimony that he disciplined Beussink because he was upset by the page's content, not because the home page had caused any substantial disruption at school.134 "Disliking or being upset by the content of a student's speech is not an acceptable justification for limiting student speech under Tinker," the judge wrote.135

    Judge Sippel noted, "The public interest is not only served by allowing Beussink's message to be free from censure, but also by giving the students at Woodland High School this opportunity to see the protections of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights at work."139"

    ……….

    James on the other hand seems to want to give students the opportunity of seeing the intimidation (or at least a stern talking to) from a government authority for speech students have the right to engage in.

  90. James Pollock says:

    "I rather think this serves as a sterling example of what happens when "school administrators" decide they have an interest in students' personal communications."
    So the other 50,000 schools where that didn't happen are what happens when they don't, right?
    (P.S…. you're supposed to be 13 to get a Facebook account… see Facebook Terms of Use 4.5.)

    "As a side note, your 1950s world where countless busybodies peer out of blinds and spy on everyone in the neighborhood, frantically calling the cops because they thought they saw a (frightened whisper)colored person(/frightened whisper) on the streets after 6 PM, is a delightfully hellish place to live."
    Didn't I already explain that I'll only defend the claims I've actually made? (BTW, when did the racists switch sides, from the aggrieved student tweeters to the fearful, trembling neighbors?)

    "the borderline insane and/or the actively malicious follow your idea of being a "good citizen""
    See above complaint re: defending only the claims I've actually made.

    "I'm calling this one closed."
    Ah. Declare victory and get the hell out. Accepted.

  91. Lizard says:

    @James:
    a)I was unaware school administrators were charged with enforcing Facebook's TOS. I guess the schools in America are so well-run that they have lots of free time, what with our schools churning out highly-literate, well-educated, graduates like clockwork.

    b)I'm unaware of the legal principle of "Well, it's OK for the government to violate someone's rights, as long as it only happens a few times."

    c)You are the one who invoked not just anonymous strangers on the Internet making themselves feel good by reporting students using racist words. The examples you chose of similar "proactive" behavior are most commonly seen in insular communities rife with xenophobia. I felt it might be good to make that more explicit. You want a society where people carefully monitor their neighbors and report any suspected wrongdoing to the cops, you get a society full of terrified busybodies who fear anything they don't understand, which is usually quite a lot. When you establish mob rule as a moral standard, it is usually the minorities (political, ethnic, sexual, whatever) who suffer, by a wide margin. This doesn't seem to be a concern of yours, of course; when I mentioned "turning in" teens who may express sexual questions, your answer was, in essence, "good neighbors would of course tell their parents of such things!". That's a response that demonstrates such a lack of empathy it bothers even ME, and "empathy" is one of those words I have to keep looking up in the dictionary.

    d)I've provided one example where student administrators do wrong; others have provided others. Care to provide some where they've done good? Can you provide me a student who will say, on the record, "I used to be a racist, but then my vice principal called me to his office and told me racism was bad, mmmmkay, and now I'm majoring in Social Justice at Berkeley."? At the moment, the ratio of examples of bad vs. good is currently impossible to calculate, as it would involve dividing by 0.

  92. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    I'm going to break this into a few posts, since otherwise it's a wall o text (though it probably won't help much, if at all, but I figured it was worth a shot):

    "Yes, you retreated to this position after I pointed out that your original claim was just wrong. Even this claim lacks evidence, and remains unconvincing."

    You proved that you didn't understand the context of my original statement, and I therefore clarified it for you. I though it was trivially obvious that I wasn't making an absolute statement, since I would have to be a blistering idiot to not recognize there are occasions in which behavior outside of school might warrant intervention inside of school, and the context of the discussion was behavior that obviously does not warrant that.

    And to say "this claim lacks evidence" is to be disingenuous; how many cases need to be posted of administrators behaving badly before there is "evidence" that it occurs enough to you?

    "This also remains unconvincing for lack of evidence. Furthermore, it is 180 degrees from the position you argued from previously on a different thread."

    There is a moral difference between straight speech and an appeal for action from an authority, just as there is a moral difference between calling for change and directly inciting unlawful action from a crowd. I have previously argued that speech is morally neutral, and that I will not usually call even offensive speech wrong, on its own. I might call the opinion expressed wrong, but just expressing an opinion, even it's wrong, is not a wrong. Even if you know expressing the opinion might enrage a populace to the point of violence, the fact that you are not advocating that violence is why the moral burden of that violence does not fall on you.

    However, to repeat, a direct call to action (appeal to authority) is different than "regular" speech, and I find it incredibly hard to believe you don't understand that. While everyone has the right to appeal to authority for whatever reason they want, that doesn't make every appeal to authority morally right.

  93. Grifter says:

    To continue:

    This group appealed to authority, and if that authority intervenes in any way, they have abridged their student's rights. There is no good action they can take, in terms of the students' rights; the only way to win that game would be for the administrators not to play. But the group appealing to them is not appealing to them in order to get them to not respond; therefore, they are appealing to get a response they know, or should know, would be a wrong response. Therefore, whether the administration responds appropriately or not, the (non-legal usage) appellants have done wrong, in the same way that someone reporting "suspicious behavior" that they know isn't really suspicious are wrong.

    To torture Lizard's example a bit: If I know my neighbor's out of town, but I don't know his brother's watching the place, and I see some guy I've never seen before have trouble unlocking the door, then make a mess with the blinds open in my neighbors house while he's out of town, I might call the cops because that seems suspicious. If it turns out that's his brother, I overreacted, but it was an honest mistake, because based on the knowledge I had (neighbor out of town, trashy behavior, difficulty getting into house), it was suspicious. If, on the other hand, I see someone with a swastika tattoo mowing a lawn and call the cops on him as a "suspicious person", even though I don't even know the neighbor whose lawn he's mowing, then I am an asshole. There was nothing actually suspicious about his behavior. No honest mistake there. No justification to call the cops, and I have wasted their time. Luckily, the cops are unlikely to punish him just for having that swastika tattoo (though, perhaps they will be ruder to him than if he didn't). However, we have multiple citable examples of school authorities wildly overreaching their authority in ways that are staggering. So not only were their motives terrible, and their intended outcome terrible, but there was a distinct likelihood of the terrible, rights-infringing outcome occurring.

    Let's look at your scenarios:

    "the school administrators overreact and infringe the rights of one or more students (bad, but the wrong belongs to the school administrators),"

    And your position is that it doesn't belong at all to the people who were directly inciting the school administrators and calling them to do that very thing? Because I think you'd be standing alone in that position.

    Next scenario:
    "the school administrators take note of the offered information, determine that there is nothing they can or should do about it, and act accordingly (neutral),"

    The act accordingly being, of course doing nothing. Just so we're clear on that. But you're right, that is a possible outcome. It's not at all what the Jez folks were trying to obtain or wanted, but it is a possible outcome.

    "the school administrators take note of the information (perhaps in concert with other information obtained from other sources) and are able to forestall or avoid problems (good, but probably impossible to quantify)"

    Impossible to quantify and does not factor into the decision to call them at all, any more than the slim chance that guy mowing the lawn with swastika tattoo has a warrant out for his arrest makes the person who called based on nothing less than an asshole.

    "the school administrators take note of the information but problems with the student(s) occurs anyway (bad, but the wrong belongs to the student(s))."

    Possible to quantify, in that if any of these students do bad it can be linked to their tweets, particularly now. But hasn't been quantified because that number is 0, so while a possible outcome, it hasn't happened, is unlikely to happen, and the tweets in question did not rise to a reasonable person thinking it would happen, and it's not what the Jez folks really thought (read the posts, they at no point say "we really believe they will be committing violence").

    "As I detailed above, I would expect that neutral outcome to dominate, the good outcome to be rare, but to have the possibility of occurring, and the bad outcomes to have other, more proximate causes."

    And you base that on….nothing. You have nothing you've cited to base that on. No citable examples of administrators behaving well in the face of student behavior they don't like. In fact, while I recognize that it does happen, I think I call on you to find a single citable case before I concede the point for our debate. And further, to the rest of the sentence: What more proximate causes? Administrator receives call or fax about tweets that are offensive. Intervenes despite that being an infringement of rights. What more proximate cause are you positing and not saying or supporting?

  94. Grifter says:

    Last one (and if there's one from someone else in between, sorry, apparently three posts in a row gets WordPress to say I'm posting too quickly, so I'm waiting a few minutes):

    "Thus, my position is that reporting racist twits to school administrators is a neutral act (regardless of motivation) and has a very remote possibility of creating a net good result;"

    And my position is that if you're appealing to authority with the specific hope of them infringing someone's rights, you're an asshole. That is their reason for contacting the administration: to infringe the students' rights. The fact that that isn't necessarily going to be the outcome doesn't justify it any more than failing to steal an old lady's purse makes the grab attempt morally neutral.

    In fact, that's where your point breaks down entirely: "Because the point I made is that if an act is not harmful, it doesn't matter if it was done by reason of mistake, altruism, or purest spite." Pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger is a morally bad thing, even if the gun misfires and so therefore there is no bad consequence. Calling the authorities about something you know they shouldn't intervene in the hopes that they will anyway is a bad thing, even if they do not intervene.

    "can even make a case that if reporting a racist twit causes the school administrator to infringe a student's rights, it's bad for the student and for people who advocate for rights, but is good for society in the same way that exposing wrong behavior in any public official is a good thing. " You know what's better than that? Not having the wrong behavior in the first place. The idea that attempting to goad an administrator into doing something you know to be a wrong thing is good because it shows the administrator is willing to do wrong is, frankly, reprehensible thinking to me. Shining a spotlight on wrong behavior does not mean causing or inciting it.

  95. Grifter says:

    To qualify my last statement, btw, there is also a difference between going undercover to "bust" someone you know to be corrupt, entrapping someone, and just doing a bad thing. I still maintain it was the last.

    By the logic you've presented, James Pollock, every criminal whose crimes involved more than one person and may become public can argue they've done a "good thing" because now it's come to light that the other person is willing to commit a crime.

  96. James Pollock says:

    "James on the other hand seems to want to give students the opportunity of seeing the intimidation (or at least a stern talking to) from a government authority for speech students have the right to engage in."
    Please see above postings re: the fact that I'm only prepared to defend the opinions I've actually stated, not the ones people make up and ascribe to me.

  97. James Pollock says:

    "By the logic you've presented, James Pollock, every criminal whose crimes involved more than one person and may become public can argue they've done a "good thing" because now it's come to light that the other person is willing to commit a crime."
    Absolutely they can. Any act can have both good and bad aspects.

    Example: I shoved that little old lady out of the crosswalk just before that bus would have run her over. Too bad she dislocated her hip when she hit the sidewalk…

  98. James Pollock says:

    Lizard,
    "a)I was unaware school administrators were charged with enforcing Facebook's TOS."
    Non-sequitur. That was me who pointed out the violation of Facebook's TOS, and I am neither a school administrator, nor attempting to enforce Facebook's TOS. Bet this seemed like such a zinger, too, seeing as how you led off with it.

    "b)I'm unaware of the legal principle of "Well, it's OK for the government to violate someone's rights, as long as it only happens a few times.""
    Me, too. Where did you come across it?

    "You want a society where people carefully monitor their neighbors and report any suspected wrongdoing to the cops, you get a society full of terrified busybodies who fear anything they don't understand, which is usually quite a lot. When you establish mob rule as a moral standard, it is usually the minorities (political, ethnic, sexual, whatever) who suffer, by a wide margin."
    Please see previous discussion on whether or not I'm going to defend claims I didn't make. Let me help you out with this, since you seem to struggle with it repeatedly: I've not yet said anything at all about what I want.

    "Can you provide me a student who will say, on the record, "I used to be a racist, but then my vice principal called me to his office and told me racism was bad, mmmmkay, and now I'm majoring in Social Justice at Berkeley."?
    No, I can't. Because I didn't make this claim. See the pattern here? I haven't even suggested that a vice principal should call a student to his office and tell him (or her) that racism is bad.
    What I did, in fact, claim is that there is a remote possibility that A) racist behavior outside of school has an effect on things that happen inside the school, or B) there is, in fact, something that the school administrators can do (of which the lecture you suggest would theoretically fall, but is certainly not the entirety of possible actions), or C) the identification of racist behavior by specific students can help solve incidents of racist behavior inside the school (say, racist graffitti). Any of those would be rare, but (according to me) have a non-zero possibility. I can build a hypothetical of all three and I have witnessed the third. (Note that doing things which are themselves legal may be evidence that links a person to something which is not legal.) I can certainly provide examples where people have done stupid things at school, been dumb enough to post about them online, and have been caught as a result.

    To recap what I actually think: Students, like all Americans, have a right to hold racist views. They have a right to state these views in public, if they choose to do so. Alternatively, they have a right not to have their private views made public. However, nobody has a right to BOTH publicly state their views and keep them private. Anonymity is not a right. Thus, we get to the rule: don't say racist things if you don't want people to know you say racist things.

  99. James Pollock says:

    Grifter:
    "You proved that you didn't understand the context of my original statement, and I therefore clarified it for you. I though it was trivially obvious that I wasn't making an absolute statement"

    The original statement was "I think contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school is inherently a bad thing" which is both broad AND absolute. You backed off the absolute fairly quickly, but you've been narrowing "things" with every post. You went from "contacting" to "contacting with malicious spirit" and "things students do while not in school" to "engage in obvious legal speech outside of school that is not threatening to anyone and does not relate in any way to anything that actually happens in the school."
    Had you said that in the first place, I wouldn't have questioned you for making an overbroad and absolute claim. Forgive me if I think you're presenting a moving target by saying "that's not what I meant" every time I pointed out the overbreadth of your claim, or noted an exception to the absolute nature of your claim.

    "And to say "this claim lacks evidence" is to be disingenuous; how many cases need to be posted of administrators behaving badly before there is "evidence" that it occurs enough to you?"
    No. I didn't say that administrators don't behave badly, I have, in fact, conceded that point from the beginning. I claim that WHEN administrators behave badly, the blame for the administrators behaving badly should fall on the administrators who behave badly. This, however, has nothing to do with what you claim, which is that notifying school administrators of the actions of students is wrong. You keep asserting this, but haven't presented convincing evidence that the act of reporting is wrong.
    Here's an analogy. Suppose I hand my neighbor a hammer. Is that a wrongful act? (It's certainly LEGAL, but that's not the question.) What if he doesn't particularly want or need a hammer at that moment, but takes it only to be polite. Wrongful?
    Suppose that I really, really wish that flier distributers would stop littering my porch, and I totally and fervently hope that my neighbor will defend his property from trespassers with deadly force, but all I say to him is "man, there's a LOT of fliers blowing down the street lately." Suppose my neighbor, lacking murderous intent, does nothing with the (truthful) information I've given him? Does it make a difference if he agrees that we get too many fliers, if he likes getting fliers, or if he just doesn't give a damn about fliers? Suppose I suggest to my neighbor, who happens to be a cop, that littering is totally a crime and he should shoot the next guy with a bagful of fliers who comes down our street? If he doesn't shoot the guy like I suggested but he does make a point of hassling the next guy with fliers, and suggests that the guy tell the other "litterers" that they can expect the same thing when they come around, have *I* done anything wrong in correctly noting that the number of fliers seems to be increasing?

    "While everyone has the right to appeal to authority for whatever reason they want, that doesn't make every appeal to authority morally right."
    I didn't claim it was morally right, I claimed it was morally neutral, with a few exceptions of which this is not one (several times now). And, "appealing to authority (for action)" and "providing information to authority" are not the same thing, either. I've been defending one, and you've been attacking the other.

  100. James Pollock says:

    "This group appealed to authority, and if that authority intervenes in any way, they have abridged their student's rights. There is no good action they can take, in terms of the students' rights; the only way to win that game would be for the administrators not to play."
    This is an assumption, you have made, Grifter, but it might not be true. There may be additional facts not in evidence. For example (and I'm not suggesting that this is the case, or even is likely to be the case, just that it COULD be.) Suppose that the school these people have been going to has had recent, unsolved incidents of racist behavior (say, racist graffitti). The facts that some specific students have been publicly identified as holding racist views is NOT proof that they have contributed in any way to the racist behavior at school, but it is evidence that that the administrators should take into consideration. There are ways to take it into consideration that do not infringe the students' rights.
    (I notice you slipped back into absolutes again.)

    "And your position is that it doesn't belong at all to the people who were directly inciting the school administrators and calling them to do that very thing? Because I think you'd be standing alone in that position. "
    Maybe. You advocated a similar position a while back, when the question was whether or not the people who incited religious hatred had any responsibility even if they knew, based on past events, it would provoke a violent response. It's still not clear to me why the fact that the person doing wrong happens to be a school administrator absolves them of some of the blame, while the ordinary religious zealot doesn't.

    "The act accordingly being, of course doing nothing. Just so we're clear on that."
    No, the act accordingly being investigating what can or should be done, and THEN concluding that nothing should be done is the correct answer. You left out a really, really important step.

    "that is a possible outcome. It's not at all what the Jez folks were trying to obtain or wanted, but it is a possible outcome."
    Well, they were hoping that the investigation would reveal that there IS something that can or should be done, would be my guess. Unlike yourself, I don't claim to know the motivation of all those people with perfect clarity.

    "No citable examples of administrators behaving well in the face of student behavior they don't like."
    Yesterday, in approximately 50,000 school districts, administrators behaved well despite students exhibiting behavior they don't like. The day before that, in approximately 50,000 school districts, administrators behaved well despite students exhibiting behavior they don't like. The day before that, same thing. Yes, abuses do occur, and usually they are corrected, and sometimes, alas, are not. But most of the time, in most of the schools, administrators "behave well" and do not infringe students' rights. Exactly what sort of citation would satisfy you that these self-evident facts are true?

    "further, to the rest of the sentence: What more proximate causes? Administrator receives call or fax about tweets that are offensive. Intervenes despite that being an infringement of rights."
    I offered a couple above at http://www.popehat.com/2012/11/15/twitter-and-true-threats/comment-page-2/#comment-919522
    However, I would guess that the most common would be that the administrator in question was personally offended by the tweets, that either the school or others nearby have had actual incidents of racial violence (or property damage to graffiti and vandalism), prompting a (temporary?) tendency to overreactions to racist talk, or an actual perceived threat… possibly of violence but probably ONLY of incidents of graffitti and vandalism (which are still expensive and disruptive to the school.) Finally, there's always the possibility that the administrator mistakenly believes that they are acting within the scope of their allowed actions at the time. None of these has anything to do with the source of the information.

  101. James Pollock says:

    "And my position is that if you're appealing to authority with the specific hope of them infringing someone's rights, you're an asshole."
    Note once again that is a change from the original premise. Reporting information and requesting an action are different things.
    I'll give you this, if I know with a substantial certainty that someone will be injured, and I either want this or don't really care if it happens, that's a wrong. (Of course, you argued the opposite side of that premise last time, arguing that IF a person reacted with a wrong to hearing the free speech of others, that person owned all the wrong and the speakers had none.)

    "Pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger is a morally bad thing, even if the gun misfires and so therefore there is no bad consequence."
    Really? Without exception? If I hadn't been writing for so long already, I'd poke some holes in this claim. I will, if you want me to, in a later post. Mostly, though, this is an inapt comparison because deadly force and hypothetical violation of rights are not in the same class, and because (again) reporting information (which I'm defending) is different from requesting action (which I haven't been).

    "Calling the authorities about something you know they shouldn't intervene in the hopes that they will anyway is a bad thing, even if they do not intervene."
    Maybe, but that's not the case we're discussing. Reporting information because, although there probably isn't anything that can or should be done, but might possibly be, is. You've gone ahead and decided that "they should not intervene" and now gone ahead and decided that the callers/emailers already know that "they should not intervene", but I'm not ceding that, only that it is highly likely that AFTER THEY INVESTIGATE they will discover that they should not (or perhaps cannot) intervene. You keep leaving that step out.

    "You know what's better than that? Not having the wrong behavior in the first place."
    Sure. Can you point to where I've advocated against taking steps to reduce wrong behavior? The way to improve things is to A) somehow avoid hiring people who'd infringe students' rights in the first place (any ideas on how to do this?) B) train and support the administrators to know what the limits of their power actually is C) get rid of administrators who cannot or will not learn those limits. (Note that detecting the administrators who would infringe students' rights is a necessary step in removing them from power. If you have a way of detection that works before they infringe students' rights, spell it out.)
    In the meantime, we'll have to rely on post-offense measures, such as civil-rights lawsuits.

    "The idea that attempting to goad an administrator into doing something you know to be a wrong thing is good because it shows the administrator is willing to do wrong is, frankly, reprehensible thinking to me."
    Note the above (now way, way above) fact that an act can be both good and bad at the same time. If an administrator can be goaded into infringing a student's rights, I want them removed from power. I don't, however, know of any way of knowing if they can be so goaded that works without any goading.

    "Shining a spotlight on wrong behavior does not mean causing or inciting it."
    You're still working under the assumption that reporting information to a public official is the cause of their decision to infringe rights. I don't consider that a settled point, far from it.

    Also, as recently as the 20th, you were still claiming that "I said contacting administrators was a bad thing, and among the reasons was the administrators reaction."
    "contacting" to "causing" and "inciting".

    Finally, I'll address your lawn-mowing dude with the swastika tattoo. Suppose I'm offended by swastika tattoos, and would prefer not to come into even the most tenuous contact with persons who have them. Suppose further that I'll (grudgingly) accept that people do have a right to HAVE swastika tattoos, and don't have a problem with people who have such tattoos but keep them covered in "polite company", generally meaning in public situations. Now, (gasp) I discover that my neighbor is having his lawn mowed by a person prominently displaying their swastika tattoo. The horror!
    So I call up my city councilman, and I tell him that my neighbor has one of THEM mowing his lawn RIGHT NOW. My fervent hope is that this guy will not be allowed to mow lawns in the city, or at least, to cover it up when he's out in public. Accordingly, I ask if there's anything in the city's laws that might be used to control this shocking behavior, that, while not illegal, is not socially desirable, either.

    TIMEOUT. There isn't anything in the city's code that prohibits or limits the display of swastika tattoos in public. Lets see what should happen:

    TIMEIN. My councilman tells me he'll look into it and see if there's anything he can do. Being as I am so persuasive, he doesn't just blow me off and actually DOES investigate. He verifies that there is actually a fellow with a swastika tattoo mowing my neighbor's lawn. He consults the town ordinances and policy and procedures manuals to see if there's anything on the subject; finding nothing he determines that he cannot act with authority to compel Mr. Swastika-tattoo to act differently, but he may act in a couple of different ways… he could, for example, speak directly to Mr. Swastika-tattoo, tell him that some people are offended by swastika tattoos, and ask him if it would be possible for him to voluntarily cover up the tattoo. He could tell me that there's nothing to be done, and drop the matter. He could even contact the landscape company, suggest that as a councilman he's had complaints, and ask if that particular employee could be shifted to other worksites in the future (although he'd have to be careful to note that it's a request, not a directive.)

    Now, these are all cases where the councilman does no wrong, so it doesn't matter that I REALLY, REALLY wanted that guy gone, even though the city government forcing him to leave just because I don't like his body art would be wrong.

    Now, the cases where the councilman does overstep his authority: He commands the guy to cover his tattoo; he commands the guy to leave the jobsite even though it isn't finished; he commands the employer not to send him to sites within the city; or he has the police grab him, throw him in the jail, and has him forcibly taken to a tattoo-removal clinic. In each of these cases, the councilman has done wrong, and is to be censured appropriately; the city as an entity also faces liability for the eventual civil-rights lawsuit. But I don't, because I didn't DO any of those bad things. And even if I fervently wanted any of those bad outcomes, all I provided was information; the decision to act wrongly was made by the councilman. Note also that it doesn't make a difference if I wasn't offended myself, but I knew that one of my other neighbors is the child of a Holocaust survivor who would probably be offended by display of a swastika; I'm still just providing information to the councilman.

    But hey, let's leave out the middleman. Suppose I AM the councilman. I note swastika guy, put on my councilman hat, look up the law and the policy, and decide to act wrongly, all without anyone else being involved. I'm 100% in the wrong. But am I in the wrong for A) noticing the guy and his tattoo in the first place, or B) acting wrongly toward him?

  102. Lizard says:

    @James: You're correct. Anonymity is not a right.

    As with many issues, we're not discussing what is a right, but what's right to do. Furthermore, we're discussing not just outing people and letting the dice fall where they may, but contacting people with authority and demanding they "do something", when, under the law, there's nothing they can do. (Of course, it's been shown that there's a high likelihood neither school administrators nor the people who want them to "do something" actually know the law, or at least are hoping no one else does.)

    You further assert the end result will be a net good. Most of the rest of us here, perhaps due to more understanding of the nature of authority, assert it will be a net evil. We have far more evidence to support our case than you have offered. What you have offered tends to be in the form of either an actual crime having been committed, and identifying the perpetrator, or evidence an actual crime is "imminent", and preventing it happening. Absent these things, the likely outcome is creation of watchlists and the justification of further monitoring, casting a wide net in the hopes of possibly catching a fish. I'd like to think you don't need to told why this is a bad thing, but your communitarianism is becoming quite evident, so you probably know the arguments as to why it's a bad thing, and disagree with them.

  103. Lizard says:

    Also, "Exactly what sort of citation would satisfy you that these self-evident facts are true?"

    A couple of news stories to this effect:
    "Outraged parents in Someplace, USA, petitioned the principle of William Henry Harrison High School to prevent students from wearing non-matching shoes, which the parents read somewhere meant something bad, though they weren't sure what, it was probably sex, or drugs, or rock&roll, and what's up with these stupid kids these days, anyway? The principle spoke to the assembled parents for 15 minutes, beginning with a reading from the Bill of Rights, then some choice words from HL Mencken, and ended with a five minute long stream of invective including the phrases 'pathetic panic-mongering inbred morons', 'mentally defective fuckwads', and 'Thomas Jefferson would stick his boot so far up your ass you could taste his toenails'."

    Show me a good half-dozen or so of those, and I will admit that there may be sufficient sane school administrators in the country to balance out the insane ones.

  104. Earle says:

    Maybe it's time to give it a rest.

    http://xkcd.com/386/

  105. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    I haven't been shifting the target. I have been attempting to clarify a position, since it has become clear that you seem to have trouble with the context I am intending.

    "You went from "contacting" to "contacting with malicious spirit" and "things students do while not in school" to "engage in obvious legal speech outside of school that is not threatening to anyone and does not relate in any way to anything that actually happens in the school."

    Once again, I felt I was originally clear from context, and immediately corrected myself when it was apparent you didn't understand me. But you still seem to not understand. The motive matters in an action, true, hence the "malicious spirit", but that doesn't make a bad action good, it just makes a bad action less bad. If I accidentally punch you in the face, I'm not nearly as much of an asshole as if I do it on purpose; I would have thought that was axiomatic to the point of not being necessary to state, but apparently it is. That's why their motive matters, and "things outside of school" in this case is, which we are discussing and which is the context of the discussion is speech outside of school that is legal. BTW, I've never said "does not relate in any way to anything that actually happens in the school". I seem to recall a little girl who was writing food reviews of the cafeteria food of her school, who was threatened by administration; while that did relate to the school, it was done outside of school and inappropriate of them to intervene. So you still do not understand. Legal behavior outside of school that is not threatening the student or the school (or, I suppose, a third party; an administrator could justify intervening for that as well) should not be intervened by an administrator, and if you contact an administrator you're probably an asshole for doing so.

    You also clearly have not read the article, which is part of why you are so far off base. Ken did include helpful links, and the very first one includes this gem:

    "Calls were placed to the principals and superintendents of those schools to find out how calling the president—or any person of color, for that matter—a "nigger" and a "monkey" jibes with their student conduct code of ethics."

    They did not "just provide information" (though, a call to authority is pretty much inherently an incitement for response from that authority, just as ordering a pizza is incitement for the pizza guy to come…you can't say "I just told them I wanted a pepperoni pizza! That didn't mean I wanted to ORDER one!"). They called specifically to get these kids in trouble for something that the school should not be intervening about. So that entire post, predicated on them just giving information! Not their fault what administration does! Is wrong.

    "No, the act accordingly being investigating what can or should be done"

    Someone calls an administrator and says "a student said a word I disagree with on the internet!", the correct response is "I'm sorry, but he or she has the right to say that. Investigate what can be done to them? They did not get calls about threats, remember.

    "Well, they were hoping that the investigation would reveal that there IS something that can or should be done, would be my guess. Unlike yourself, I don't claim to know the motivation of all those people with perfect clarity"

    Silly me, I read the article, where they make their motivation pretty clear.

    "Yesterday, in approximately 50,000 school districts, administrators behaved well despite students exhibiting behavior they don't like."

    And receiving calls to action about that behavior? Shenanigans. It's not a constant barrage of phone calls to principals and media attention daily. 50,000 schools today probably had NO controversial behavior that rose to the level of national attention, and 50,000 principals did not receive a phone call about student's Twitter posts. Lizard pointed out that actual situation I'd like to see to believe your point.

    Your proximate causes, BTW, are ridiculous. To say "Person A, you paid Person B 50,000 dollars to kill Person C, but he really likes killing people and hated Person C, therefore you are not responsible for getting the behavior you asked for". is ridiculous, and directly analogous to "Person A, you called Person B in hopes of getting Person C in trouble, but Person B just hates kids, therefore you are not responsible for getting the behavior you asked for".

    You keep talking about how others are saying you made claims you never made. Presently, you are mischaracterizing the earlier debate. In that situation, a person spoke their opinion, knowing it might cause the unreasonable to be unreasonable. They did not tell the unreasonable to be unreasonable, their actions without those people existing would be perfectly fine; in this scenario, these people are actively advocating the inappropriate. The situations are completely different, and I believe I said in that debate that had he specifically been inciting, the situation would be different, but he wasn't, so it wasn't. In this case, they are directly inciting. Further, even if we agreed that the situations were the same, you were the one arguing that he was an asshole…so you should, if you're debating honestly, be saying the same thing about the Jez folks, shouldn't you?

    You take issue with the vocabulary I'm using: I clarify for you as we talk about a specific scenario, and you accuse me of changing my position. I'm not, you're just attempting to poke holes where they don't exist. Contacting authorities is the same as calling the police. If you call 911 and say "there is a suspicious person here", you will get a response. It is reasonable to say you "incited" that response. I clarified my language for you because you seem to lack a fundamental understanding of that. Somehow you think that this "contacting" was magically innocuous. It wasn't. So I clarified to point out that it is inciting action, and now you say I've changed my position. I haven't. If the people on Jez had simply posted the information online, the situation would be different. If they had any reason to actually believe that what the students were doing was any business of the school's, the situation would be different. They didn't just post it online. They directly called administrators. They didn't have any reason to believe it was the school's business. To return to your city councilman example, if you called him about the Swastika tattoo, then you are an asshole: because I know you know that it's not illegal, so you are just hoping that the councilman will do something anyway.

    "Now, these are all cases where the councilman does no wrong," No they aren't. A city councilman calling a business and saying that he's had complaints about someone is inappropriate. The government should not be intervening in that situation. If you want to call the company, go ahead, you don't have the force of the law behind you. Bob the councilman calling a company can be considered (depending on circumstances) inherently chilling, just as Tim the policeman telling someone he "should really consider pulling down that poster that says Obama Sux" can be (I suppose there are exceptions, but usually they require a personal relationship of the person in authority with the person in question, as opposed to the person in authority acting merely as Anonymous State Agent).

    As regards to your "A or B" at the end of your post: the wrong is not that the Jez folks noticed the students' behavior, so that is a stupid and disingenuous question. The wrong is their behavior with that. Had they only named and shamed, they would not have responsibility for what happened. But they called the administrators specifically to get a response that I can reasonably say they knew was inappropriate: the fact that they may not have gotten that response does not magically change it to a morally neutral situation.

    My "gun" example once again required context, I suppose. I took it that you'd assume I meant "If you point a gun at someone under circumstances where it is 100% morally wrong to do so, and it misfires, it is still a bad thing, it doesn't magically become a morally neutral thing." I think there may be a fundamental misunderstanding here, too: If I try to shoot you, say, in the back, and am 100% wrong for doing so, but I miss, and it goes through a window and kills a rapist, good has come from my action, but that doesn't mean I'm in the moral clear: I still tried to kill you, and that was wrong.

    @Earle: Mrs. Grifter printed that up for me; I think she meant to chastise me, but I took it as a motto. Besides, the debate is reasonable; hypothetically, we could all reach agreement finally, which would be nice.

  106. James Pollock says:

    "we're discussing not just outing people and letting the dice fall where they may, but contacting people with authority and demanding they "do something", when, under the law, there's nothing they can do."
    We are? The topic changed AGAIN???
    I originally responded to Grifter's claim that "contacting school administrators about things students do while not in school is inherently a bad thing.", and even a couple of days ago Grifter said his position was that "contacting administrators was a bad thing, and among the reasons was the administrators reaction."
    My position is that providing information to anyone (authority or not) is not a bad thing. See how that's WAY different than "contacting people with authority and demanding they "do something", when, under the law, there's nothing they can do."?

    "Also, "Exactly what sort of citation would satisfy you that these self-evident facts are true?"
    A couple of news stories to this effect: (snip)"
    While I'm looking for THOSE stories, why don't I also prove to you that Americans aren't rioting in the streets by finding a few news stories that say "Today, Americans did not riot in the streets." Or perhaps prove to you that cannabalism is not running rampant in the U.S. by finding for you the news stories that say "today, no cases of cannibalism were reported." Cases where nothing happens are the ones that don't get news stories written up about them.

  107. James Pollock says:

    Grifter, you argued my point and displayed a lack of comprehension of the article while incorrectly taking jabs at mine.

    In your version of events, all these various people contacted the school and demanding that the students be punished. However, actually reading what they asked for reveals that while that may be what the want, it isn't what they actually asked for… they asked the schools to investigate whether or not the students have violated the rules of the school. AND YOU QUOTED IT as if it supported your argument.

    "A city councilman calling a business and saying that he's had complaints about someone is inappropriate."
    No, it isn't, at least not inherently (there's that word again). The business owner may have no idea that anyone finds his employee objectionable; or may have no idea why. The business owner might want to alter operations to avoid offending customers and postential customers, may not care about it, or may support the employee because of agreement. You've once again come out in favor of limiting speech.
    Now, there are a LOT of potentially chilling things a government official could put out there… discussing the necessity of annual business permitting, say. There are some other wrong actions that could show up without any chilling (say, denying that business permit without telling the business owner why) or create a situation where a potentially expensive legal fight is necessary to vindicate rights (writing an ordinance banning display of tattoos while working within 50 yards of a public thoroughfare.)
    Calling the business owner to report complaints about an employee is the first part of attempting to negotiate a solution, and it doesn't really matter what the complaints are about…
    I can give you an example drawn from local news: Some citizens reported to the police that one of their members A) seemed to like to wear a Nazi SS uniform from time to time, and B) built a memorial to Nazi war dead in a secluded part of a city part. This, of course, created an immediate furor, as you might imagine. Of course, the way a policeman chooses to dress when he is not being a policeman is entirely his own business… but if the admiration for Nazism apparent in these actions "bleeds through" into the performance of his duties, then the police command structure DOES have an interest.

    "As regards to your "A or B" at the end of your post: the wrong is not that the Jez folks noticed the students' behavior"
    According to you, the wrong is in making the school authorities aware of the students' public action(s). In the scenario I described, you have the same result (the school authorities become aware of the students' public action(s)) without the intervention of any third party, and you say that creating that result is a wrong action. So… if nobody did it, who do we pin the blame on?

    "they called the administrators specifically to get a response that I can reasonably say they knew was inappropriate: the fact that they may not have gotten that response does not magically change it to a morally neutral situation."
    Again, go back, re-read the text you quoted at me, and read what response they actually asked for… an answer to the question of how making racist tweets accords with school policy. This is not an inappropriate response on their part, and the call to action is for something the administrators are allowed to do.

    "My "gun" example once again required context, I suppose."
    Actually, it doesn't, as it's still incorrect. Let me make your argument generic for you, and hopefully you can see why. Let me offer two versions, and you can pick the one that's closer to what you meant:
    1) If I assume something is wrong, and it doesn't cause harm, it's still wrong.
    2) If I limit cases to where something is wrong, and no harm is caused, in those cases the something is wrong.
    If your argument starts by presupposing the desired result in the premise, it's not a very good argument: If the sky were green, and there were no clouds in the sky, the sky would be green. Wonderful logic, but not a convincing argument that the sky is green.
    (From there, you go on to offer an example of the principle I stated earlier, an act can be both good and bad (and neutral) at the same time. I'll, um, concede that point.)

    So, to get back on track, THIS PARAGRAPH contains the elements I'll defend going forward… if students are shown to be doing "something" outside of the school, then school administrators are authorized to investigate to see if "something" relates to anything that happens inside the school that would interfere with the safe and effective delivery of education to the students. If a person outside the school notes the students publicly doing "something", and notify the school's administrators that students are doing "something", this also is an OK act. Even if the outside reporters disapprove strongly of "something", and hope the school will punish the students for doing "something" as a result of the reports, it is still an OK act if the outside reporter is only reporting the information, or reporting the information and asking the school to investigate. And, yes, it is a wrong if the school administrators punish the students for "something", if the students are legally permitted to do "something", whether it's done by ignoring the law, being mistaken about the law, or by attempts to retroactively alter the law to condemn "something".
    Substitute any lawful act you like for "something"; these aren't limited to just saying racist things in public, outside of school.

  108. Lizard says:

    All I can say is, if you think that "School administrator tells busybodies to sit down, shut up, and respect the rights of students" is "dog bites man" and not "man bites dog", then, I'd like to know: Is your Earth one of ones DC comics has documented so far, or is it waiting in the wings for the inevitable "Crisis On Earth James"? I have to assume the latter, because it's a lot more unbelievable and implausible than any of the dozens of alternate Earths we've seen so far, and I'm including Earth-C and Earth-C-minus in that.

    Also, at what point does constantly pestering school administrators, or any officials, who, on occasion, actually do have socially necessary work to do (rare occasion, I admit, but there are a handful of documented cases), rise to the level of interference with such duties which may be, in fact, criminal, or at least more harmful to society than the ills being reported? I do not believe it is, in fact, the duty of school administrators, police, etc, to devote scarce time and resources to investigating every complaint about every action anyone, in the community or not (remember, the Jezebel folks mostly live far from the communities involved, and do not pay taxes to pay the salaries of the local authorities), might find offensive, suspicious, or questionable. Would it not be better for society, in general, if people tried to let the various functionaries we appoint to handle things for us focus on the most important issues that confront them, given highly limited time and resources? I mean, I don't expect MUCH from our public servants, but I am reasonable enough to grant that even that low bar can't be met if they are constantly distracted with trivia. We, as citizens, owe it to our government employees to burden them as little as possible, and, hopefully, they'll return the favor by keeping out of our lives as much as possible. The less they're tasked with doing, the better the odds they'll do the few things they absolutely HAVE to do with some marginal level of competence (I am an unrepentant optimist), and society is thus improved.

  109. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    Here's where I call you out for being disingenuous.

    YOU
    "You've once again come out in favor of limiting speech."

    ME
    "While everyone has the right to appeal to authority for whatever reason they want, that doesn't make every appeal to authority morally right."

    There is a difference between saying something is ethically/morally wrong, or that someone is a douchebag, or whatever other colorful ephithet I used, and being in favor of limiting it. I think the Westboro douches are monsters, but they have the right to do it (And if someone does violence to them or to someone else because they're so mad that the Wesboro folks exist, they are not responsible for that person's actions *W.O.E.). Everyone has the right to call the administration*W.O.E.; I never once ever advocated limiting that. Next time you post a snippy response to someone implying they're an asshole for "misrepresenting" you by quoting you snarkily, you might want to remember that you aren't Ivory-towered yourself. It know it might get frustrating, but at least try to remember you've done the exact same thing, at the very least in this specific example.

    However, I will try to only address the concepts in your THIS PARAGRAPH, rather than get bogged down in the rest of your reply. I fear I'll begin to insult you due to my frustration at what I feel to be your disingenuousness.

    So.

    I think we can agree that calling the administration is inciting action on the part of the administration of some kind, just as if you call the cops and report suspicious activity, you are inciting them to investigate. It's quite different from simply making a statement. Just as an "I just saw this creepy guy on the subway" blog post is different from calling 911 and saying "I just saw this creepy guy on the subway".

    You don't believe that causing that investigation is necessarily morally bad. I maintain that it is provided: you know that someone isn't committing a crime, have no reason to believe that a job you pay them for is negatively impacted, and you ask the police to find a crime (or ask "how their behavior jives with the code of conduct")*W.O.E.. In that scenario, where someone is doing, on their own time, something that doesn't directly affect you, is perfectly legal, is not in any way dangerous or inciting of danger, doesn't affect a job that you have a vested interest in, and possibly other exclusionary criteria that I would normally hope you'd grant without me explicitly specifying every possible exclusion*W.O.E., you are being an asshole. Within your rights, as I've said. But still an asshole.

    To return to my original example and your modification of it: If I call the councilman and say "there's no way it can be legal for someone to have a swastika tattoo!" You are an asshole; not only do you hold a bad opinion that I can find fault with (similar to the previous discussion, where I said the guy was a douchebag for his opinion, but in that scenario not for his expression of that opinion), but also because you are being disingenuous: You know, or should know, that the swastika dude has as much rights as you do, even if he exercises it in a way you don't like, and that it is not, in fact illegal. You are hoping the councilman does what you want even though you know he shouldn't*W.O.E..

    In this present scenario, you know that students have rights, and that they are within their rights to post things*W.O.E.. You have no reason to think it's the school's business at all, and there is absolutely no reason to call them. Even if you had a suspicion that the code of conduct did have something about this, you know, or should know, that such a code of conduct is an unethical and illegal abridgement of students' rights. Yet they called them anyway; to try to pretend they weren't hoping for a response they knew to be unethical is laughable. Trying to get an investigation started on someone just for having an opinion you don't like makes you, to me, an asshole. *W.O.E.

    In the case of your Nazi cop, it is reasonable to think that his behavior outside of work would possibly impact his work. It is also a legitimate fear from the populace he's supposed to be serving and protecting. Thus, the call is not entirely unreasonable.

    The two scenarios do not equate here, of course, since students are not employees.

    The Jez folks were being fundamentally disingenuous, since they had absolutely no legitimate reason to believe that the kids were doing anything that the administration should be intervening about. Had they, or if I believed they were somehow fundamentally misinformed, I would cut them some slack in my analysis of the ethics of their behavior.

    The Jez folks are also being hypocritical, because if a school administrator got a call about a student's website whose content was in some way controversial or bothersome to the school, and felt it violated code of conduct, I am familiar enough with the website to know they would scream bloody murder about rights. These are informed, relatively intelligent people, who have lost sight of what hypocrisy is, but I base that on my knowledge of the site in general…Mrs. Grifter was a women's studies major, after all, and I'm fairly familiar with the rhetoric and general milieu of that site in particular thanks to the Gawker Media Empire. An example: http://jezebel.com/5918828/adorable-scottish-school-lunch-activist-silenced-by-government-sourpusses?tag=Martha-payne

    *W.O.E.=With obvious exceptions. I'd hate for you to think I was "changing my position" when I'm really not making a statement that's as blanket as you make it out to be.

  110. James Pollock says:

    Lizard,
    "at what point does constantly pestering school administrators, or any officials, who, on occasion, actually do have socially necessary work to do (snip), rise to the level of interference with such duties which may be, in fact, criminal, or at least more harmful to society than the ills being reported?"
    As long as we're talking about phone calls and emails, never. If you had a big enough group of nuts who was actually showing up in person, one at a time, maybe. I suppose if that happens, my opinion may change. For now, since the immediate case is not about a big group of nuts who show up in person, we can exclude this case.

    "I do not believe it is, in fact, the duty of school administrators, police, etc, to devote scarce time and resources to investigating every complaint about every action anyone, in the community or not (snip), might find offensive, suspicious, or questionable."
    I do, but my defintion of "investigation" includes "use judgment to determine the importance and relevance of the complaint", meaning that many "investigations" are completed before the phone is hung up. Follow this logic: School administrators have responsibility for everything that happens in the schools they administrate, some events outside the school can create or reflect events in the schools, therefore school administrators need to be aware of those events outside of the schools which may affect the school… the need varies with the nature of the effect, of course, and with the likelihood of the effect.

  111. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    I think you should have mentioned this:

    "I do, but my defintion of "investigation" includes "use judgment to determine the importance and relevance of the complaint", meaning that many "investigations" are completed before the phone is hung up."

    sooner (if you did I missed it, and I'm very confused since Lizard and I have both said several times that this is an obvious case where the administrator shoudl be telling the callers politely to fuck off, which would be the conclusion of the investigation according to your definition, and therefore we are agreeing in philosophy if not terminology).

  112. James Pollock says:

    Grifter:
    In this present scenario, you know that students have rights, and that they are within their rights to post things*W.O.E..
    This is incorrect (specifically, the W.O.E. part). Revised: W.O.E. usually means "With Out Exception", and I interpreted it as such in writing some of this response. I've reviewed my writing in light of what you actually intended it to mean but didn't erase and start over; it's possible I didn't catch everything.
    This sort of thing is why the usual practice is to define an acronym the first time it's used… at least, that's the way writing is taught now. Footnotes are for information that is tangential.

    Still. Public school students' rights are limited. To forestall complaint on that statement as a "gotcha", they are limited in the same way that other rights are limited; by the interaction with the rights of others. The rights of students to an education require an environment conducive to learning; this limits the rights of free speech within the school. The right to do things which are or might be disruptive is limited by the interaction with the rights of the other students to not be disrupted. I do not have enough facts to state unequivocally whether or not the students had a right to post racist tweets. All I can say authoritatively is that it's highly likely.

    "You have no reason to think it's the school's business at all"
    This is incorrect.

    "there is absolutely no reason to call them."
    incorrect.

    "Even if you had a suspicion that the code of conduct did have something about this, you know, or should know, that such a code of conduct is an unethical and illegal abridgement of students' rights."
    incorrect.

    "Trying to get an investigation started on someone just for having an opinion you don't like makes you, to me, an asshole. *W.O.E."
    Um, OK, you've limited this one to "just for having an opinion". But, suppose that it's possible that IN ADDITION TO someone having an opinion I don't like, that someone may have acted or plan to act in the future in a way that involves not just having an opinion, but affects the rights of others?
    Suppose, for example, I overhear a couple of guys talking in a public place about their opinion that the government is so hopelessly corrupt that armed resistance is an appropriate response. As far as I know, it is not illegal to hold this opinion, and all I know about these men is that they (may) hold this opinion. What should I do? Investigate further myself? notify the authorities? Or just wait until they blow up a federal building? (of course, it's also possible that their government checks show up, and they do nothing at all. But I don't KNOW that.) These are guys who have an opinion that I don't agree with, who have not made any overt threat of any kind. (Actual threats would be one of your obvious exceptions, I assume. But actual threats are not present here.)
    I submit to you that A) opinions that justify violence are exceptions to your rule noted above, and that B) persons who hold racist opinions have been known to engage in violence (against persons and property) in support of their opinions. The likelihood that any particular person with a belief that justifies violence will act on those beliefs by committing an act of violence may be very small, but if it is not zero, what action is appropriate?

    Lets suppose that school administrators receive notification that students are engaging in anti-social but legal speech outside of the school. The response is to pull these kids aside and warn them that while such speech may be freely engaged in outside of school, in school it's disruptive and will not be tolerated.

    A) does such a response meet your approval, or is it impermissively "chilling" for the students to know that administrators know of their off-campus activities?
    B) If it is chilling, and that's the limit of the effect the notifier intended, does that put them in asshole territory?
    C) If the administrator becomes aware of the speech without the intervention of a third-party, have they done wrong just in learning of it?

    Actually, a sudden realization hit me… you just don't like snitches and snitching.

  113. James Pollock says:

    "I think you should have mentioned this: (snip) sooner"
    Well, I did say something like this, that in the vast majority of phone calls the administrator (more likely, the administrator's clerical staff) would politely thank the caller for the information and then go on about the day's business.

    For example, when asked what I thought the administrator's response to such notifications is, I offered the following:
    "It depends. Most likely, the added information content of the message is nil, because the administrators probably already know which students are prone to acting like buttheads (of whatever fashion), and so informing them that student X and student Y are acting like buttheads should produce no response at all other than a polite thank-you for the information. On the off chance that student X poses a threat to the safety of themselves, other students, or school property, it should be dealt with. If the information does come as a surprise, administrators should look to see what response, if any, is appropriate (with a very high likelihood that contacting the parent(s) is the most appropriate response.) Of course, even if an appropriate response IS selected, there's bound to be a vocal minority of some kind, possibly more than one, that is unsatisfied, perhaps deeply so. This is just one of many, many reasons why I don't work as a school administrator."
    ( http://www.popehat.com/2012/11/15/twitter-and-true-threats/comment-page-3/#comment-919051 )

  114. James Pollock says:

    "this is an obvious case where the administrator shoudl be telling the callers politely to fuck off"
    It's only obvious if you make assumptions. (Like, for example, that the students in question have NOT engaged in any activity that was disruptive to the schools but which were unsolved, or the relative possibility that the school suffers from incidents of racial tension that are disruptive.
    I don't have enough information to state authoritatively that the students' actions were not and could not be disruptive to the school. If the student's actions WERE disruptive, even if otherwise entirely legal, then telling the administrators about them isn't wrong and administrators telling callers to fuck off would be.

    I think a fundamental difference of opinion exists on the question of whether or not school administrators are able to routinely apply common sense… I assume they do, and you and Lizard (and Tarrou, wherever (s)he went) assume they either cannot or will not.

    I'll meet you on this… people who call are presupposing the outcome of investigation (that is, determination as to whether or not the students' actions are disruptive to the school or have relevance to any event or action that was disruptive in the past) and who demand punishment before any such investigation are categorically wrong.

  115. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    It's also pretty common practice to use an asterisk to indicate that the reader should look for said asterisk because there is more information there. "Footnotes are for information that is tangential." is a flatly untrue statement if taken as an absolute rule; in this case it was obviously directly referring to an acronym, which I beleive the common reader would say "Oh, it must be explained by this asterisk". We all sometimes read too fast, to try to pretend I'm at fault for using an asterisk in a way you didn't immediatley ping is not just insulting, but also wrong.

    While by no means a hard and fast rule, to my general experience footnotes that are numbered are usually "tangental", while footnotes that are asterisked are contextual clarifications (such as if there was a quote by Writer X "Jenkins* was a douchebag", the asterisk would explain who Jenkins was, which is completely necessary to understand the quote, just as in this case I put an asterisk in order for the reader to understand my made-up-on-the-spot acronym.

    But that debate is tangental to the full debate.

    You say several things are "incorrect", but give no justification, so I will just say "incorrect" back at you.

    Then you move on to give an example you feel to be analogous…wherein there is a legitimate threat (the statement about armed response). While not a real threat, as you note, a reasonable person could nonetheless think that a real threat might be present. Nothing at all similar happened in this situation, and even if it had, if the submitters were actually concerned about it, they would and should call the police, who would be the ones to call about this.

    Your "B) persons who hold racist opinions have been known to engage in violence (against persons and property) in support of their opinions. " is true about almost every opinion that's sufficiently controversial.

    "Actually, a sudden realization hit me… you just don't like snitches and snitching." I don't like snitching when you're snitching on somethign that isn't a crime, or even reasonably suspicious. That, to me, is simply being malicious because you disagree with someone. There is no element of "I really thought they were doing wrong", or "I really thought there might be a danger there".

  116. James Pollock says:

    The internets seem to have stolen my carefully-crafted response. Alas, I don't care enough to start over.

    1 quick point, however.
    "to try to pretend I'm at fault for using an asterisk in a way you didn't immediatley ping is not just insulting, but also wrong."
    You're either being overdramatic or way oversensitive here. I offered an explanation for why my (previous) response might be disjointed.

    I offered you a method that can be used to avoid this type of error; it happens to be the one taught in writing classes BECAUSE IT WORKS. See, for example, Wikipedia's style guide…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style#Abbreviations

    (Other style guides, as well, I offer Wikipedia's specifically to blunt the charge that academic style guides aren't meant for use by average individuals.)

  117. James Pollock says:

    Oops, one more, this time substantive.

    "Then you move on to give an example you feel to be analogous…wherein there is a legitimate threat (the statement about armed response)."
    Um, I didn't give any examples wherein there is a legitimate threat. I understood that where there IS a legitimate threat, that is one of your "obvious exceptions" where your rule doesn't apply.

  118. Grifter says:

    @James Pollock:

    I suppose I got defensive because your statement, taken as an absolute, is flatly wrong, and it seemed that you composed a whole response wherein you had been too lazy or distracted to read with full comprehension (but had replied anyway) and, rather than say "Sorry if I missed some", you tried to say "you should have done this differently. That's not how you do that."

    That is a style guide for Wikipedia itself. Not a recommendation for general writing. I'm sorry that you are a lazy reader, and that you seem to have an inability to understand context; that is in fact why I wrote it in the way I did, because I knew if I spelled it out the first time, and subsequently didn't reference (which is the Wikipedia style guide system), there was a good chance you would forget what it meant and, rather than reread for context, just start spouting off. Kind of like what you did with my response just now, where immediately after the sentence you don't like, I qualified that "While not a real threat, as you note, a reasonable person could nonetheless think that a real threat might be present."

    Of course, to qualify that further, that assumes that the speakers are being serious, and that the listener who might report them believes that their statements are true statements of their belief. It would require the context of what was heard to fully understand.

    Fundamentally, there is a difference between "The government's just too corrupt. There's nothing left to do now but bomb the federal buildings in town and go off the grid" overheard in a hardware store when you pass some guys wearing dark glasses and buying a lot of fertilizer and "Man, the government's so corrupt. I'm starting to think armed resistance isn't as inappropriate as you might think" in a coffee shop by some high school student hipsters. Context matters.

  119. James Pollock says:

    "That is a style guide for Wikipedia itself. Not a recommendation for general writing. I'm sorry that you are a lazy reader, and that you seem to have an inability to understand context."

    Pot, meet kettle. You are a lazy reader, and totally missed the context that I offered Wikipedia's style guide as an example; every style guide for academia has the same advice, as well as several other general style guides.

    But, apparently, pointing out that there is a better way to be sure you are understood is a waste of time. You're not interested. Odd for someone who gets so testy when misunderstood, but it's 100% your business.