Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Lessons Learned Following Oklahoma School Beating Amplified by Social Media

Yesterday in Enid Public Schools in Oklahoma, a middle school student was beaten unconscious and sent to the hospital following a playground fight. Enid superintendent Shawn Hime was quoted in this News on 6 article:

Hine said the argument turned physical and that a teacher supervising the playground broke up the fight. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” said Hine. “The EPS Police Department is investigating the situation and legal charges are pending. Our thoughts and prayers are with the student as he recovers from his injuries.”

Apparently the mother of the student took a photo of him with blood on his face at the hospital, and “a family friend” shared the photo on Facebook. Local news agencies quickly passed along the photo on their official websites and social media channels including this repost on KOFR’s official TwitPic channel.

Hospitalized Enid Student Photo Shared on Facebook & Twitter

The updated article from KFOR posted later in the day did not include the superintendent’s statement. A news article from News on 6 in Oklahoma provides the name of the student and credits a “family friend” for providing the photo:

Preston Hodge. Photo submitted by family friend Jeff Rust through Facebook.

Jeff Rust has several links to the photo on his Facebook page, including a link to a widely shared article, “Longfellow Student Seriously Injured” by Enid news blogger Mark Keefer. (Route 60 Sentinel)

Lots of important issues are raised by this situation. The first one, clearly, is the safety of the student, his recovery from his injuries, and the issues of racism, bullying, and fighting in our schools and communities. Words matter. Violence is not a justified response to a verbal taunt. Apparently this situation started with a racial slur and escalated. In this case and in today’s connected world, social media was and continues to be a powerful amplifier. According to yesterday’s post by “Stand For The Silent – Enid, Oklahoma Chapter,” “A fund to help the family has been set up at the Alva State Bank in Enid.”

This situation also raises propriety questions for individuals as well as organizations concerning the photo which was shared. When I first saw the photo with little context I was upset on several levels: First of all concerned about a news organization sharing the photo (I guessed) without parent permission. The photo is disturbing. Responding to criticism about sharing the picture, KOFR responded via Twitter:

The Enid community wants to show the impact of violence and bring awareness to the issue. Sorry if it offended you.

Responding to Criticism About TwitPic Photo

Whenever breaking news happens, mainstream media agencies clamor for photos and video to share with their audience. In this situation, since the mother apparently shared the photo with a friend, it appears “permission may have been granted” for the widespread publication of the image. Listening to the comments shared by family friends, it sounds like the mom (understandably) wants attention focused on this issue and the issues it raised addressed. Certainly this photo is a catalyst for greater attention and focus on her son and what happened to him.

Of secondary importance to the recovery and health issues involved for the student, I think we all can learn (or reinforce) a valuable lesson about digital photography and social media in this situation. Be thoughtful and considerate when you take photos of something, and especially when you share a photo. In today’s connected landscape (as we’ve seen repeatedly in our schools with incidents of sexting) an image can quickly go viral and pass out of the control of any single individual to stop or limit its distribution.

Another thing I think we should learn about this situation is the importance of schools, teachers, and community members using social media channels to proactively amplify the POSITIVE stories of learning and strong relationships which take place every day in our schools. It’s sad but true that negative stories like this catch and hold the attention of the public far more than positive topics. Read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” for more on this. Acknowledging those dynamics of the public’s preference for negative and lurid news, we still need to leverage social media tools in our schools and communities to “share stories of good” rather than simply amplify the bad and the negative. See videos in “Celebrate Oklahoma Voices” and the Yukon Public Schools’ Learning Showcase website for examples of this.

That said, tragedies and problems like those highlighted by this beating in Enid Public Schools DO need to be openly discussed and confronted. How are we working actively to eliminate racism in our communities? How are we amplifying those espousing reconciliation and understanding, rather than confrontation and violence?

Words matter. Choose yours carefully, and encourage the students under your care to do the same.

Consider supporting “Stand for the Silent” (@SFTSorg) and starting a local chapter at your school following the example of Jeremy Wallace at Enid High School. Let us learn from this situation and resolve to use our abilities, skills and gifts to work for good and not for evil.

My prayers are with Preston Hodge and his family.

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