At the end of 2014, Tulsa, Oklahoma, sixth-grade teacher Melissa Bour received a friend request on Facebook from one of her students. She didn’t accept the request, but a quick browse through the girl’s friends list revealed the names of dozens of kids from her classroom. Many of the students’ Facebook pages were completely public, meaning even strangers could trawl through the kids’ personal photos and messages.
“I saw middle fingers, students dressed inappropriately, and extremely foul language,” Melissa says. “It was disturbing.” When she brought up her discovery in class, the students were unfazed. So she created a post of her own.
With a bright green Sharpie, she wrote on a piece of paper in all caps, “Dear Facebook: My 12-year-old students think it is ‘no big deal’ that they are posting pictures of themselves … Please help me … [show them] how quickly their images can get around.” She put a picture of the letter on her Facebook page and asked people to share it.
In hours, it was shared 108,000 times across dozens of states and four countries. She deleted it after eight hours, but it continued to circulate. “I wanted to show them that it’s on the Internet forever,” she says.
As she explained the results of her experiment in class, the students’ “eyes got bigger and bigger,” she says. “It scared a few of them into deleting their pages completely,” she says. Others have removed inappropriate posts and utilized privacy settings to manage their pages.
Her intention wasn’t to scare them off social media but to push them to be mindful of what they post. Melissa says, “I tell them, ‘Just because everyone else is sharing doesn’t mean you have to.’ ”