Tomas Fletcher and the perils of Friending your students

Two of my favorite commentarians have asked me about my opinion on the Tomas Fletcher situation. I have now heard about this from four different sources and seen the news report on it.

The story, from what I understand, is that Tomas added some students as friends on facebook. At least one of these students looked at Tomas’ pictures and found some pictures that were in questionable taste. This sparked an overreaction and was seized upon by Maestro – which, as far as I can tell, is the Fox News of Georgia – and used to smear TLG as a whole. This is the same “news” organization that featured my blog in a TLG smear piece, without attempting to contact me or even bothering to get any of the facts right, for instance, where I live or who I teach. Tomas has now been – in my opinion, unfairly – accused of a number of things and called a number of names.

So look. Obviously the evidence does not support the claim that Tomas is gay, a pedophile, or a pornographer. There are probably millions of pictures on the internet of people who were just fucking around and ended up in apparently compromising positions. And you’d think that in a culture like Georgia’s, where straight men regularly walk around with their arms around each other, people wouldn’t be so quick to assume someone was gay because of a possibly homoerotic photo. And even if Tomas was gay, which rumor suggests he is not, this is the 21st century, and people who think being gay is bad need to get with the fucking program.

Second of all, pornography is expressly forbidden by facebook’s terms of service. I’m not saying that pornographic stuff can never slip through, but from what I understand facebook is fairly good at cracking down on that sort of thing. So it’s almost certain that what we are dealing with in these photos is some kind of simulated, implied, or satirized sex act, and not an actual sex act. Now – is that pornography? I don’t care to speculate since the definition of “pornography” is famously vague and subjective. I can, however, remind you that this is the kind of music video that can be seen on Georgian television that I happen to know Georgian children are watching. If that isn’t pornography, then neither is whatever Tomas had on facebook.

Finally, the most damaging and relevant charge, which is the implication that Tomas is somehow behaving inappropriately towards children. This is where, I have to admit, things get a little murky, and thus where the meat of my analysis will lie.

Obviously, this is not a case of pedophilia. Tomas was not deliberately showing gay porn to children to satisfy any kind of prurient interest. However, there are certain valid concerns that arise from the fact that children (of what age, we do not know) saw something of a sexual nature that they may or may not have understood, due to a set of questionable decisions made by the adults in their life, and what they saw could potentially make them confused or uncomfortable and interfere with the learning environment.

Now, first of all, I will say that the first responsibility to protect children from the internet lies with parents. The amount of the internet that is potentially harmful or disturbing to children is staggering. I’m not just talking about porn – of which there is a huge, huge, huge amount on the internet. You can go on the internet and watch videos of people being beheaded. You can go on the internet and watch videos of people doing dangerous, stupid, disgusting, and/or unsanitary things. You can go on the internet and see graphic pictures of people with various medical and psychological conditions that can give nightmares to full-grown adults. So if you’re a parent, and you are not monitoring your children’s internet usage, then for all you know they’re on 4chan, or worse, the even seedier Russian equivalent that I imagine must somehow exist. And that’s not even counting the actual pedophiles who are actually trying to get children to give out their location and/or contact info so they can be abducted.

So look, parents – if you let your kids have unsupervised and unrestricted internet access, you basically give up your right to bitch and moan about what they see. And I can almost guarantee that by the time they’re 13 or 14 they’ve figured out how to find any kind of porn they want, view it, and delete their browsing history and temporary files so you can’t find out what they were doing. And the other thing about the internet is that you don’t even have to look for sexual, disgusting, and/or dangerous shit online – it will find you. Tuning it out is a survival skill that every internet user has to develop.

So then there’s the next question: when is it okay for a child to have facebook, or some other public online presence? If you understand that facebook was started for college kids in the US, you understand that one of the sine qua nons of facebook is pictures of college kids in the US doing stupid shit, generally while drunk out of their fucking minds. I’m probably lucky that the bulk of my wild college times happened before facebook, although you can probably find pictures on the internet of me dressed up to attend the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which might lead you to the erroneous conclusion that I am a BDSM fetishist – not that there is anything wrong with people who are. In any case, the point is, again, if you are letting your kid use facebook you should understand what that entails. They’ll probably be asked to allow various apps that violate privacy, they’ll probably see pictures of people doing weird stuff, and they’ll probably end up with a wider network of connections than you might be comfortable with.

To sum up: parents, pay some fucking attention to your children. There is an internet now. Just having them be at home is no longer a reasonable way to shield them from the real world.

And this, finally, brings us back around to the question of adults friending children, and specifically, of teachers friending their students. I’m going to go ahead and say that in the case of adults and minors, I do not particularly recommend it.

I’ve become facebook friends with at least one of my college professors. I see no problem with this, since students befriending professors and professors mentoring students is an age-old practice. I have also befriended some of my students at the Police Academy, because they are all adults.

However, when it comes to students who are minors, being friendly is fine, but the kind of interaction that goes on on facebook basically entails an integration of an adult’s social life with a child’s social life. A teacher is a role model for their students, and facebook is a place where people are generally not presented in a professional or ideal light. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with adults having the kind of fun that they have in their facebook photos – just that there are certain types of activities that are better off being done by people with more judgment than schoolchildren.

I have a friend who is about seven years younger than me. We met on the internet when she was thirteen or fourteen, and I admit that at the time I was hesitant to discuss certain topics with her because of her age. Now that I am twenty-nine, I can’t even imagine becoming internet friends with someone who is thirteen or fourteen. I mean, I know that in the US, there are lots of kids who have tried drugs and sex and alcohol and other adult things by the time they are thirteen, and I know that there are plenty more who actually are mature enough to talk about adult things – but still, when I am on the internet, I do not want to have to censor myself and gear my photos, conversations, and other activities to a family audience. I feel bad enough cursing on my facebook status updates knowing that my parents might be reading them – I can’t imagine posting a picture of, for example, myself spinning fire, knowing that some tween might see it and try it at home and end up with third degree burns or worse.

I also know that morals and values are different here in Georgia than in the US. For instance, I’m told Georgians are allowed and/or encouraged to start drinking much earlier than Americans are. It might be socially acceptable for a student to see their teacher drinking alcohol. On the other hand, a lot of my facebook photos are of me hugging, kissing, cuddling, and/or massaging various female friends or girlfriends, and I’m not so sure that those kinds of things would be socially acceptable for kids to see here.

I guess the point is that there’s no telling what will rub a child’s parents the wrong way, or what might influence a child’s behavior, and so I’d rather just not take the risk. I’d rather not have to worry about filtering all of my photos and notes and status updates so that a certain subset of my facebook friends can’t see them, and I’d rather not have to consider what might or might not be offensive or socially unacceptable to various particular individuals. I’d also rather not have my image as the teacher – a figure that should be respected – tarnished by something I said or did among my peers. And there’s no way to tell how children will judge you based on what you do or say online. Basically, aside from the age issue, I also prefer to keep my personal and professional life separate.

I’m not saying no one should friend their students on facebook. I guess I’m just saying that if you do, you have to be prepared to take responsibility for what those children end up seeing on your facebook. Tomas Fletcher was careless, and maybe he’s taking more heat for it than he deserves (or maybe not, since it seems TLG is backing him), but that’s exactly why you have to be careful with what you share online and who you share it with, and that’s why I personally wouldn’t recommend friending students, especially young ones, and *especially* when they come from a culture whose nuances you may not entirely grasp. And if you do friend your students on facebook, you better make damned sure your facebook has been properly child-proofed.

********************

And finally, the video. What’s with these guys?

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37 Responses to Tomas Fletcher and the perils of Friending your students

  1. pasumonok says:

    I think it is just plain stupid to have your students as your friends and not to adjust your privacy settings. Nobody wants to see their teacher with a dildo. Can you imagine if this kinda thing happened in a little town in states?
    On the other hand, after watching the interview, I got the feeling that almost nobody in Zugdidi knew about the photos:
    1. The principal of the school claimed she heard it for the first time from the TV crew.
    2. She said that none of the children, and most importantly, none of the parents complained about the issue.
    3. The host family hadn’t seen the pictures. Host dad asked for them from the TV crew, he said: ” I want to physically see the pictures, I have not seen them”.
    Thus, it is my understanding that this whole picture thing would not even matter, if it were not for the stupid journalists and opposition politicians (equally stupid).
    It is one thing when you are twenty and you don’t realize that as a teacher, you should not reveal your pics with dildoes. It is other thing when your house gets attacked by cameras and voice recorders and people harass your host family and school, thereby spreading the news all across sakartvelo. You become a victim, automatically
    By the way, my friend is a civil rights activist and he asked through FB for the contact info of Fletcher. This guy has sued TV shows for discriminating against gays, so I am sure he will make media pay for the humiliation they have caused Fletcher.
    The conclusion: when you become a local celebrity, edit your FB profile.
    P.S. I doubt it that Georgian parents can control their kids’ internet usage, cause the kids know internet a lot better.

  2. Victoria says:

    Indeed, sir. I friended some of the students I taught in the summers of Upward Bound, but until very recently, when there have been approximately two pictures of me holding solo cups, my Facebook was teen-proofed and they were on completely limited settings. They’ve all since graduated and thus now I frankly don’t care what they see, but I still don’t go crazy. And that’s for students who, at most, are four years different from me. Point is as you say: Adding kids to Facebook is risky business.

  3. I don’t want to comment yet, waiting for the normal people’s comments, because what i saw on TV an read of forum.ge was absolutely mind blowing!
    The most epic part was when the opposition leader in Zugdidi was making a press conference and said ” I’ll just show you two pictures, and they will explaing everything for me. i don’t even need to say how disgusting they are, you will see for yourself” and shows us two pictures of the guy, in one of them he is simply smiling with his hair red πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ so that’s it huh? he had his hair RED! lets kill him πŸ˜€

  4. N says:

    With all the respect, sir, in my opinion, this post is a predestined to failure and attempts to justify something that can and should not be even in such liberal cultures as the US, not even to mention Georgia. Further more, I think that you are missing out the point here. It is not about Mr. Fletcher’s private life, his sexual orientation or anything else, noone argues that he is not entitled to have private life and do whatever he desires as far as it is legal, BUT as soon as he takes the responsibility to teach the children, he is obliged to keep the intimate/erotic (sucking dildo, naked males and so on…) details in far reach from those of minor age. It is rule in any civil, democratic and may i say tolerant society, not following that should always imply consequences.

    Oh, and the video u mentioned (Nikita-Mashina), clearly it is also harmful for big part ot TV auditory, but there is a slight difference, Nikira does not go to Georgian schools.

    In conclusion, you might be right that there is way too much fuss about pretty small issue and in normal cases, in my opinion, it should be resolved in more civilized manner (thank the teacher and buy him the ticket to the USA).

  5. pasumonok says:

    “waiting for the normal people’s comments”? I guess me and Victoria are abnormal? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
    The funny thing is that I agree with you ( girlwithp) on almost everything πŸ™‚

    • No, You are not of course πŸ˜€ Read on forum.ge about this subject and you will understand what i mean under abnormal. And I agree that the guy should not have had his pictures (only two of them btw, with dildo and the naked one) somewhere available for his pupils (though they WERE 11th graders and had seen hell of everything already) , but the reaction media and opposition gave to it was SLIGHTLY over boarded.
      Nobody even knew about this pictures in Zugdidi and nobody was accusing him of something. Everybody was satisfied with his teaching skills and personality.

      • And now opposition is accusing him of PEDOPHILIA.. do they even know what that is? We don’t even know if he guy is actually gay, but even if he is being gay is neither a crime nor has anything to do with pedophilia!
        If i were that Thomas guy, I have no idea what i would do, i might have killed somebody for such a DISGUSTING accusation.
        The truth is the guy is just a victim of some pathetic dirty political games. Yes he made a mistake, who does not. What was more important, to improve his mistake or to make a big scandal? They could warn him that in Georgian society such kind of behavior in front of children is unacceptable and he would either delete those pics or those kids from fried list, instead od making those pictures public, make so that all 3,5 million people would see it?
        huh?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Part of the reason people freak about about what happens on Facebook is that it contradicts the lies we tell kids.

    One thing Graham doesn’t mention is that we start to believe the lies we tell kids not just because we remember them from our youth, but because otherwise we would suffer from severe cognitive dissonance. When we tell kids that there’s something wrong with drinking, one thing we must do to keep this lie up is to hide the fact that teenagers actually do drink and on the whole come out OK. Facebook breaks this facade, and as usual it’s the messenger that gets shot.

  7. blintu says:

    internet is something our parents didn’t have in their childhood. most of them don’t know much about it (especially in regions) and can’t control it. they have no idea about possibilities of internet.

  8. blintu says:

    internet is something our parents didn’t have in their childhood. most of them don’t know much about it (especially in regions) and can’t control it. they have no idea about possibilities of internet.

    • panoptical says:

      Yeah, the same is true in America, but people need to know these things. Parents need to understand what their kids are doing and take responsibility. And we as the new media generation need to do our part to educate parents.

  9. pasumonok says:

    Oh, I’ve read something so atrocious that I can’t breath! There is this stupid newspaper Asaval-Dasavali, my friends always make fun of it. Anyway, there is story about Thomas Fletcher here and it is the most ridiculous thing that I’ve read in a long time.
    http://asavali.ge/asdas1_2006/2010-44/1-20.PDF
    ( it is on the second page)
    I am so mad that I swear, Neil, I will translate it over the weekend so that you can read it too! Also, I think it would be good for TLG-s to be prepared for this kind of bullshit!!!
    I sincerely hope that this newspaper will have to pay for such unprofessionalism!
    and what pains me the most is that people in Zugdidi did not give a damn until this ( I am trying not to swear) horrible newspaper came out!!!!!

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  11. ---> says:

    Neil,

    You and others are on the right track to become celebrities (I think you already are) – expect that you’ll become a poster boy for the opposition screaming in every corner that you and other TLGers come to the country to ‘take away Georgian national character from Georgians’. And be prepared that you will hear very interesting stories about yourself: being an agent of CIA or MOSSAD (or both and Vatican in addition to these two) would be the lamest one. These who are a little bit more ‘creative’ would claim that your true agenda is to persuade locals to become gays and turn away from the only right religion in the world. That you have secret meetings (disguised as supras in countryside) to worship Satan and so on and so on….

    One thing you should know that independent journalists are as common in Georgia as rainfall in Sahara. And these who will write articles and wage campaigns against you in press do not really care about fact-finding or establishment of truth. They do not care about you and your colleagues either – their goal is to topple government using all means and you and other are just ‘tools’ in their crusade.

    So… you have basically two ways to deal with this situation – either try to blend in as much as possible (which would also include canceling this blog) or be ready to be fight for your ideas and be vocal and spread your word as much as possible. Ignoring ‘them’ would have the same affect if herd of deers try to ignore pack of wolves.

    Remember that you live in a society where gossip no matter how weird and unrealistic it might be, will become truth unless repelled on time. That is because of lack of critical thinking ability in the society and tendency of significant part of the population believe anything which is told from TV screen.

    As far as the internet security itself – please remember that only less then 10% of households have computer (if my figures are right) and most parents of schoolchildren do not really know what computer is (especially in rural areas like Zugdidi). Today’s kids know much more about computers then their parents. One can not monitor their children internet behavior unless knowing what Internet is… That is the reality on ground.

    Taking above intro consideration it means that people who are dealing with children should take necessary precaution to avoid potential problems. They must, because relying on assumption that parents would police their kids’ internet behavior would be naive.

  12. JR says:

    It sounds like somebody was not thinking when they agreed to accept a “friend” on Facebook.

    Teachers, whether in the US, Europe or Georgia have a higher level responsibility to children. If you want to be friends with your students on Facebook, then you need a separate “clean” account OR clean up your current account.

    What if this had been a boss? I’ve heard of people getting fired for what is on Facebook. You can control settings to a point but if someone really wants the info, they will find a “friend” who will let them see your profile.

    As an employee of TLG, you have a responsibility to maintain good sense and a good reputation. I don’t care what job you are in–someone will take one small thing and turn it into something huge if they want to hurt you, your company, your job, etc.

    Use this as a learning experience–everyone wants to present as clean as front as possible. You are representatives of your country and employees of TLG. The bigger deal you make out of it–the more ammunition you are giving to the opposition.

    You are comparable to a celebrity–think of all the crap they deal with. Sounds like these guys are comparable to the Inquirer but there is not a lot you can do about it, EXCEPT don’t put yourself into compromising situations. Ask yourself–do I want my mother to see this–if not take it off Facebook or don’t do it.

  13. Pegi ΠšΠ°Ρ€ΠΏΠ΅Π½ΠΊΠΎ says:

    The foreigner English teachers ( I don’t speak about all of them, but most of them) living nowadays in Georgia are evicted from their countries. All the time, this category of people are in search of new jobs. They could not make their career in their countries, so they had to go far away in hope to earn a bit more money or make their monotonous and uninteresting life better. Who is Thomas Fletcher? Why do you pay so much attention to him and his fucking photos? I’m sure in the same situation he would be to blame in his country too, he would be accused of sharing his nasty photos with his schoolchildren on purpose.
    Of course, none of the parents complained about this shit thing. The truth is that people in Georgia live under threat from the government, especially in regional areas, they are surrounded by murderers leading both central and local governments. I want to tell our foreign friends, who don’t know that happens in fact in our country, Georgia
    is being led by the dictator and his entourage consisted of murderers and bandits who were also trying to falsify president elections in Ukraine, can you imagine? My husband is Ukrainian and I know everything that Georgian government did there during President elections. And I ask you now, in such conditions who can complain about all these things?

    • Razha says:

      You are such a clown…….

      If you really think that the foreign teachers were evicted from own countries – you nead medical treatment

      • Pegi ΠšΠ°Ρ€ΠΏΠ΅Π½ΠΊΠΎ says:

        You need medical treatment. Who made you blind? I’m so sorry, You will never recover from that illness. For having fun I advise you to eat your tie, it tastes good, ask your mad president. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ you have nothing else to do.

  14. Jefferson says:

    Mashina by Nikita is so catchy… maybe it flies because it’s “art.” Those who post provocative pictures should do so in the name of art. I approve. Additionally, internet cafes are wonderful places to play pretty violent games or look at porn. In my town, sometimes the internet cafe owner gives me the secluded seat in the corner away from others… hmm Thank you for your blog posts. I’ve enjoyed your entries.

  15. A. says:

    Interesting, I’ve been seeing a lot about facebook and social networking causing lots of problems in law both for lawyers and jurors … one juror tried friending a key witness. another posted a twitter update “can’t wait to tell this guy he’s guilty” (judge ordered him to, among other things, write a 5 page paper on the constitutional right to a fair trial) – its apparently caused a number of mistrials and other serious things. and lawyers are given very strict guidelines by firms on how to use their facebooks – of course things like ex parte communications, privilege come into play and many lawyers are learning the hard way that its better to play it safe then sorry – Florida actually prohibits judges from friending certain lawyers. can you imagine being legally prohibited from friending friends? its interesting to hear your comments on social networking woes from a totally different field with its own ethical concerns and dynamics … <3-A

  16. Lukas says:

    Well, what an enlightening blog. No wonder TLG/Georgia is having trouble attracting FT’s if the state run media, is mimicking Russian television, with it’s fear and loathing and xenophobia. Fear of the other if ever I saw it.

    One side effect of the collapse of the USSR perhaps. Nationalism in each of the new republics, leads to fearing anything new from “outside”.

    Either way, doesn’t look good for teachers in or coming to Georgia, does it?

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