Sexting and Finstas: when does the school get involved?

Chris Forrester, Staff Writer

High school is already the stage for loads of drama, which can be a hassle for administrators, but with the rise in popularity of social media, the matter is rapidly becoming more complex. The latest development in the world of social media is the concept of a “finsta,” a slang term meaning “fake insta.” Essentially, a finsta is a private social media account a person uses in addition to their public profile to post potentially contentious content like alcohol, drug usage, and sexual matters.


The existence of “finstas” has proved to be an administrative nightmare, and in the wake of a number of different specific issues (the specifics of which won’t be divulged here, for the protection of those involved) Optimist sat down with Pat Cannon to talk about school policy surrounding appropriate usage of social media.


The common student perception of administrative response to social media issues seems to be rather negative, with the belief being that the school tends to get involved where it shouldn’t.


However, the policy that Cannon described is very different. The school has no means of hunting down student drama on social media, particularly not on private accounts, text conversations, or Snapchats, and can only get involved when a student specifically brings the matter to the attention of a counselor or administrator.


The most common reason for this is sexting. Cannon pegged sharing of inappropriate photos as the most common reason for students to approach staff members about outside-of-school drama. “What we’ve had to deal with, from a counseling standpoint, is that students get into a relationship, and at some point in the relationship… people are convinced to send a… ‘special picture’… but more times than not… someone posts or shares a video of someone else that is inappropriate.”


This is where the issue becomes a legal one. Contrary to popular belief, the law is that two consenting individuals — regardless of age — may share intimate photos with one another, however, if the recipient chooses to show said photos to a third party without the sender’s consent, then the recipient is breaking the law. Typically when a student seeks out assistance from the counseling office in a matter such as this, all of the involved parties are individually called down to the office and asked if they have any sort of revealing photos on their phones. Cannon said that most students are typically very responsive and willing to fess up, which makes things easier for him because the photos can merely be deleted, solving the problem.


When it comes to finstas, things are not so simple. Typically, the issues that the school has with finstas are postings of illegal activities like drug and alcohol usage. Such matters are a bit complex when it comes to the school’s responsibility, as they are not explicitly the school’s responsibility unless they’re brought to an administrator. “Obviously if a student came to me with a post from a Twitter or Finsta…and it shows a picture of something that is an illegal act, then we would take the proper steps, but I can tell you that none of us are actively searching the web or anything like that,” Cannon said.


He described the process as a touchy “case-by-case” matter, saying that for any potential disciplinary issues the school has to consider everything going on in a student’s home life. Police Officer James Witmer also added that, “If the posts/exchanges are occurring during school hours, school discipline could be administered.”


As with sexting issues, administrative approach to drug and alcohol usage is highly variable. “School consequences range from no action (if deemed unfounded) to expulsion depending upon the severity of the situation. If the incident warrants law enforcement involvement, the consequences could include probation or incarceration,” Witmer said.


Depending on how the matter comes to administrative attention, the school’s guidance counselors respond differently. “We’re not in the business of tracking down every kid who’s doing something illegally outside of school,” Cannon said, noting that administrators are sometimes asked to deal with complex matters based on limited information. Sometimes, they are made aware of a posting via a mention or accusation by another student or parent, but if there is no photograph supplied as evidence, the help they can offer to students is rather limited.


Obviously, when handling any sort of social media issues involving postings of drugs and/or alcohol, the school has the students’ safety in mind. In cases where a student’s postings of drug or alcohol usage come to administrative attention, Cannon said that he typically likes to stage a “follow-up meeting” to check in about the student’s safety, as well as to advise them that they should “probably take that stuff down as soon as possible.”


Cannon also added that for any first time offense with drug-related infractions, there is also a mandatory class students have to take on responsibility, safety, and the risks of drug/alcohol usage.
When asked about any sort of official administrative policy on social media postings sexting, drug usage, and alcohol, Cannon said that while there is a written policy on dealing with student sexting and drug usage, but the existence of social media and the complexity of such issues makes it an incredibly difficult matter to deal with, as every case requires careful consideration and is circumstantially different.