Aussie principal threatens to expel underage Facebookers

After a British school principal threatened to report parents of underage Facebookers to child protection services, an Australian principal reportedly makes an even more direct threat: expulsion. But can she do it?

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Announcing the full commencement of the battle between school principals and recalcitrant children who think they should be more open and connected.

It seems, you see, that school principals have had enough of the under-13s having Facebook accounts.

The first salvo was emitted by a British school principal a couple of weeks ago. Paul Woodward threatened to report parents of underage Facebookers to child protection services.

Now, principal of Australia's Harlaxton State School, Leonie Hultgren, has reportedly made an even more draconian threat: she will simply expel the kids.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that her threat was unequivocal.

In a newsletter sent to parents, she wrote: "Parents should understand that a student who contravenes the law or rule in a digital scenario may need to meet with the principal to discuss this issue and their continued enrollment at Harlaxton."

Hultgren's biggest concern -- a very understandable one -- is cyberbullying of children and public denigration of staff.

Her methods, however, are less than perfect. For example, in her newsletter she tells parents: "There is a reason why the legal age for Facebook in Australia is 13."

This would be accurate only if it was true. Which it isn't. Australia has no law preventing children under 13 from being on Facebook. Neither does any other country, as far as I am aware, although I am not entirely au fait with the laws of North Korea.

The under-13 rule is merely a Facebook policy and those can -- at times -- be very flexible and, indeed, changeable.

The idea that a school could refuse to accept under-13s who have Facebook accounts -- which would surely be the natural extension of this threat -- might seem almost amusingly beyond the boundaries of legality.

Some parents have reacted very strongly against Hultgren's stance. Susan McLean, a cybersafety expert who advised the school, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "You could not print the response to the principal that some of the mothers wrote on Facebook."

Who could be surprised? The kids are merely following a pattern that they believe to be adult. They see their parents posting away and assume that this is natural, normal life. Many parents, in turn, surely believe there's nothing wrong with their kids having a Facebook page. Some parents actually think Facebook is a great way to communicate with their kids.

The mere existence of Facebook has caused a whole new strain of behavior. In ancient times, if kids were bullying other kids outside of school time, the schools would and could do little about it.

Now, there is a digital record. But laws lag far behind digital behavior.

Facebook says it removes 20,000 underage profiles a day, but it is so simple to falsify your date of birth that one survey estimated that 38 percent of kids on Facebook are underage.

One of the more painful truths about Facebook is, of course, that it reveals so many more human truths for public consumption. What Hultgren is really objecting to is that little humans are just as nasty as big ones.

The biggest challenge, for parents and educators alike, is to persuade them not to be.

 

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