Social media control creates controversy

Under the Radar

 

Whether it be because of pride for their school or the complete opposite, numerous KO students have made social media accounts associated with Kingswood Oxford’s name. These accounts have caught the attention of the faculty. In an email sent out by Dean of Students Will Gilyard on April 20, the guidelines for creating accounts with KO’s name were outlined.

Among these guidelines were specific (and controversial) rules all KO students must follow when it comes to creating websites and social media accounts that have to do with KO. The rules are the following: don’t use any KO branding/logos, “when in doubt, do not post,” be aware that anything placed on the internet lasts forever, and to be responsible and respectful when posting.

A screencap from KO’s video PSA on social media accounts.

The email also included a video made by Director of Marketing and Communications Jacqueline Pisani. This video explained that it isn’t acceptable to use KO’s name on social media, and gave examples of some Instagram accounts that have been associated with Kingswood. These accounts, including “korelax,” “ko_theater,” and “KOtea.”

Gossip accounts with KO’s name can influence the way that prospective students feel about the school as a whole and can drive away students who may want to come, Mrs. Pisani mentioned. “If I’m a potential parent and I see this rogue account, I think ‘Do I want my kid to be at a school with kids who have a value set different than my kids?’” Mrs. Pisani said.

Sophomore Mary Ellen Carroll was one of the students who created a social media account with the KO name. During the school’s production of “Rabbit Hole” in October, Mary Ellen created the “ko_theater” account, noticing that KO didn’t have one already. “All of my friends from Simsbury and Avon and Farmington were in charge of their schools’ theater accounts, so I decided ‘Why can’t I?’’’ Mary Ellen said.

While Mrs. Pisani doesn’t think that this type of account is necessarily one of the problematic ones, she said that there still need to be some guidelines.

“I don’t think the accounts [like “ko_theater”] are a problem at all, but there needs to be some sort of oversight because sometimes students do things that are a little out of line without thinking, and it may not land well on the other side,” Mrs. Pisani said.

Mary Ellen, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that there needs to be oversight or that there need to be regulations. “I hate to be the one to burst Admissions’ bubble, but KO doesn’t exist in a vacuum: these accounts – like the one I created – were inspired by others, and the fact that these student-run accounts exist for other schools while KO tries to police theirs is telling,” Mary Ellen said.

Senior Dan Carroll co-ran an account with senior Charlie Coxon called “konewsonline.” The satirical news account was published on Instagram with stories poking fun of KO policies. This account, while very popular, was posted at around the same time that the official KO News was going online, and faculty advisor Catherine Schieffelin didn’t want there to be any confusion.

Due to this change, Dan started a new account called Queenswood Oxford, and stated that they were not in affiliation with KO. This fake news account published satirical posts with headlines like “Kanye West is Tweeting Faster than we can Write Articles About Him.” The posts were satirical and gained a lot of popularity until the account stopped being active in June of last year.

queenswood_arcaro.jpg

 

queenswoodoxdord_instagram.jpg
A few of the “Queenswood Oxford” instagram posts

 

One of the rules that Mrs. Pisani set up that is non-negotiable is KO students are not allowed to use KO’s name or logo in social media accounts. It’s not to diminish freedom of speech: it’s to avoid copyright issues and legal fights. “One of the tricky aspects is the idea of freedom of speech, that you can go out there and say what you want, and really we have no control over that. One problem that we could have is using the copyright for the KO name. There are certain legalities tied to that, especially if you’re using the logo or using the branding – it’s copywritten,” Mrs. Pisani said. “Kids shouldn’t be using it, for sure.”

Freedom of speech is a controversial topic, as many students don’t fully comprehend the legalities behind the restrictions. Students have very mixed opinions about whether KO can or should regulate what they say online. Many think that they can censor them as long as it directly pertains to KO’s reputation. “I think that we have the right to say what we want, but this is a school and has a reputation to uphold so I think we should all try to be as respectful as possible when talking about the school and members of the school,” junior Alyssa Pilecki said.

Sophomore Drini Puka believed differently. He thought that even though he is a student at KO, he can say whatever he wants. “If I’m paying 40k annually to go to the school, I’m gonna post whatever I want, wherever I want,” Drini said.

Some people believe that this is a bigger deal than it deserves to be. “I think [Admissions offices] are making a mountain out of a molehill and micromanaging the KO name. As long as people make a disclaimer that they’re not actually associated with Kingswood Oxford, it really doesn’t matter,” Mary Ellen said.

Mrs. Pisani knows that freedom of speech is a constitutional right, and said that the restrictions are only meant to protect the students and the school. “What we’re trying to do is empower the students. We want them to have a voice. But the problem with social media is that it’s a very powerful tool and we don’t always know the best way to use it,” Mrs. Pisani said.

No matter the following, social media possesses the possibility to impact teenagers’ mental health. 95% of students at Kingswood Oxford use social media, a huge jump from the 73% of the teenage population who use it. 67% of the KO population believes that social media affects someone’s mental health, and science backs that up.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study about “Facebook depression,” a form of depression that starts when teens see posts on social media and then start to exhibit typical symptoms of depression.

“Well-adjusted children tend to put their best foot forward, broadcasting only their best attributes and qualities online… They are able, in other words, to promote a somewhat deceptively positive sense of self. In response, their friends’ feedback, comments, and posts tend to be overwhelmingly positive, creating a positive feedback loop,” published the National Center for Health Research, a website that focuses on mental health awareness and treatment. However, when children aren’t as well adjusted, other problems can come along.

“For less well-adjusted children, constantly reading about the seeming success of their Facebook ‘friends’ can make them feel worse than in real life where, at least, their peers visibly fail from time to time. The positive spin that popular kids put on Facebook ends up widening the disconnect between how less well-adjusted or unpopular kids view others and how they view themselves,” said Elina Mir and Caroline Novas of the National Center for Health Research.

Even though many adults believe that social media does have an impact on mental health, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not list “Facebook depression” in their list of mental illnesses.

Many students believe that social media should not have as big of an impact as it does on teens, including freshman Lucia Volin.  “It can be inferred through the daily use of social media, that it is actually an important support of social benefits (such as making friends) and it is crucial within today’s society,” Lucia said. “Despite the wishes of many, including my own, for social media’s impact and power to be lowered on the minds of the youth, the cause for social media and the amount of captivation it has on youth is difficult to diminish.”

Students at KO spend a lot of time on social media, as 38% of students use it one to two hours a day, 36% of students use it three to four hours a day, and 14% of students use it over four hours a day. “It does take a lot of my time and attention, and it would be better if I didn’t use it all night when I have work to do,” senior Elise Gendrich said.

Sophomore Shreeya Chalikonda appreciates the benefits of social media and understands that it’s important in teenage development. “I love social media. I’m on it constantly. I feel like it really helps me to communicate with my friends in different ways,” Shreeya said.

Lots of students also use social media to help with their own mental health and reach a wide variety of friends because  it can be easier than calling or texting them. Fake instagram accounts called “finstas” are used by many. “Finstas” are accounts that are usually filled with inside jokes, or photos that owners want people to see, but maybe not their entire Instagram following. “A finsta is a way for me to post funny content that my friends will enjoy,” junior Ishaa Sohail said. “While it can be very fun, I didn’t use it for a couple of months because it can be very distracting, and social media  can be very toxic.”

socialmediachart_arcaro.jpg
The results of a poll of KO students. Graphic courtesy of Madeleine Arcaro ’21.

Social media is important in many teenagers’ lives, and nobody wants to take that away from them, least of all Mrs. Pisani. She just wants to make KO more positive and to help with the overall atmosphere. “This is supposed to be a positive place. It’s a fun institution, so we want to capture that energy online and not have it devolve into this ugly smear of mean things,” said Mrs. Pisani.

When you have something that’s such a large part of teenagers’ lives, regulations on that are bound to cause quite a bit of  controversy, and they have.

Mrs. Pisani said she hopes that with the video that was sent out to clarify  expectations for students about social media that KO will have less negativity in its online presence.