Take a look at the following picture and tell me what’s wrong with it:
Apparently that’s all it took for a Georgia high school principal to fire English teacher Ashley Payne:
“He just asked me, ‘Do you have a Facebook page?'” Payne said. “And you know, I’m confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?'”
In fact, the picture that concerned the principal – showing Payne holding a glass of wine and a mug of beer – was on her Facebook page. There was also a reference to a local trivia contest with a profanity in its title.
Payne was told a parent of one of her students called to complain. And then, Payne says, she was given a choice: resign or be suspended.
“He told me that I needed to make a decision before I left, or he was going to go ahead and suspend me,” she said.
She resigned. Attorney Richard Storrs is fighting to get Payne’s job back.
Again, this was a PUBLIC high school as opposed to, say, a private religious school of some sort. Apparently the idea that a young teacher might partake of both beer and wine was too much for those delicate Georgia sensibilities.
Here’s the kicker, and why the topic of the CBS articles is about the Internet and privacy, Payne thought she had set her FB privacy settings so that the picture wouldn’t be public:
But here’s the really troubling part: Payne had used the privacy settings on Facebook. She thought that only her closest friends could see her vacation photos or her use of the “B” word.
“I wouldn’t use it in a classroom, no,” she said. “But Facebook is not the classroom. And it’s not open to the students of my classroom. They are not supposed to see it. I have privacy in place so they don’t see it.”
I would argue that even if they did manage to see it, which apparently they could have, there’s nothing present that should be a concern. She’s not half-naked in the picture, she’s not obviously drunk, she’s not breaking any laws, and swearing outside of work shouldn’t be grounds for dismissal. (If it is, I’m in big, big trouble.)
The rest of the article is the usual ‘we’ve lost all sense of privacy in the Internet age’ stuff that’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Though as an interesting aside, I did try the Reputation.com website that the reporter used to learn what personal info was on the net:
Michael Fertik, a Harvard Law School grad who runs a company called Reputation.com, came up with information I thought was private. I was wrong.
“I think this is your Social Security number,” Fertik said. It was!
He also revealed what he called my “online reputation,” based mainly on where I happen to live.
“Our query is pretty confident that you’re a Democrat and pretty confident that you’re a Catholic,” Fertik said.
“But that may not be correct,” said Moriarty.
“It may just not be correct,” he explained.
And then there’s something that could cause a real headache down the road …
“There’s an Erin F. Moriarty who grew up just a few miles where you did, who has been convicted of serving alcohol to minors,” Fertik said. “And it’d be very easy for a machine to confuse you and that person, and to think that you are a convicted criminal.”
They offer a free scan to give you a taste of what they can find. I came away from it totally unimpressed. I put in “Les Jenkins” and the email address I most commonly use with it (firstname.lastname@example.org) and it failed to find me. I tried my jenkinsonline.net email address and it still didn’t find me. Then I tried my full first name and my SEB email address.
That was enough for it to kind of find me. It listed my name as Lesley R Jenkins (my middle initial is a T), got my age right at being 43 and having been born in August of 1967, and listed my address as still being in Orion Township, MI. I’ve not lived there for over 12 years now. When I went to the next step it congratulated me for not having any significant personal info on the Internet. Well, I thought, considering that’s technically not my real full name and I no longer live there, I’m not at all surprised by that revelation.
Considering that putting “Les Jenkins” into Google will list me in 7 of the first 10 results (and the first 4 results to boot), it should go without saying that I’m not at all difficult to find on the Internet. SEB, Twitter, and my LinkedIn profile pages are all right there with all manner of publicly viewable info about me and without getting my middle initial wrong. This doesn’t speak well to the data gathering ability of the folks at Reputation.com.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that Payne’s firing is pretty fucking ridiculous regardless of how public or private that picture happens to be. There’s nothing any reasonable person would consider objectionable about it and, even if there was, so long as she’s not taking it into the classroom it shouldn’t be a problem.