Department Of If You Can Answer These Questions With Utter Certainty,
You’re Smarter Than Moiself
(Or, You Are Self-Deluded And/Or A Good Liar)

* Are social media posts by students, outside of school, protected speech?

*  Is a school’s attempts to censure student’s personal social media posts
a violation of the First Amendment?

* Is someone who follows a hate-mongering social media account (SMA) or “likes” an offensive or racist post, as culpable as those who write the posts?

* Are high schoolers who post progressively insulting and disturbing text and images on their SMAs doing so because they are shallow, ignorant, immature youths trying to impress one another with their generation’s edgier-than-thou credentials?
Or are they racists/Proud Boys in training?

* And what if the posters of “racist” materials are themselves bi-and multiracial?    [1] 

These questions and more were raised by a 2017 case of social media bullying, which led to multiple students being expelled from Albany High School (California; east Bay Area) for racist and threatening posts made to a private Instagram page. The students and their families sued Albany United School District over the expulsions, and while the case wrangled its way through the appeals courts, students, faculty, family and community wrangled over the implications.



The following is an excerpt from the intro to an in-depth article on the Albany High Instagram debacle. The article was researched for five years by its author, Dashka Slater a writer in California who focuses on teenagers and criminal justice.  The article is adapted from Slater’s just-released book, “Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed.”

“A private Instagram account with just over a dozen followers might not seem like something that could cause much trouble.
But the discovery in 2017 of such an account, run by students, with racist posts, shattered a Bay Area high school and its town. Friendships were destroyed, lawsuits were filed and the trajectories of lives were changed forever.”
( “The Instagram Account That Shattered a California High School:
It had barely a dozen followers, but the discovery of its racist posts turned a Bay Area community against itself — and changed students’ lives forever. “
NY Times, 8-28-23  )



Moiself  recommends y’all read the entire article.   [2]   Warning: I had a headache after I did so – I’d been (unintentionally) clenching my jaw, the more I got into the gripping, nuanced reporting of the incident, its aftermath, and the mind-boggling issues it raised.

Bullying disguised as humor; racism; misogyny; students testing boundaries – nothing new under the sun.  But the ways these issues are handled and transmitted is monumentally more complicated than when I was in school. How many of my peers (and moiself ) would have/could have been caught up in similar scandals, had our clever and ironic (read: often tactless and tasteless) jokes, remarks, observations and random blatherings been posted (and thus documented) on social media, instead of just shared between certain friends and classmates and forgotten the next day?

One personal account in the article, from a boy who was one of the “likers” (but not posters) of the Instagram group, was particularly poignant.  He radiated regret, confusion, shame, and self-doubt, wondering how he got caught up in such a stupid, sleazy, and hurtful thing, which in his mind started as an edgy joke.  He *knew* in his heart that the posts, and thus him liking them, was wrong….  But, in that way which is common to so many insecure adolescents, he wanted to seem tougher than he was and impress the older boys who were the original posters.

One perceptive Albany High student noted, in an op-ed article in the school’s student newspaper, a disturbing tendency in her generation with regard to social media – a tendency which, she felt, was played out in the Instagram posts:

“The constant exchange of offensive memes breeds a vicious competition,
where the jokes get increasingly more shocking
until the initial jokes are no longer very outrageous.”

Another student’s account was equally if not more touching, in that she was a subject of at least one of the posts.  Imagine having a friend warn you about (read: direct you to check out) a social media account, where you discover that people you thought were your friends had made snide and/or disparaging personal comments about you, and posted graphic, offensive, sexist, and racist (think: KKK images) pictures linked with pictures of you and other bi-and multi-ethnic students.



The following excerpts, from the end of the article, encapsulated for me the complexities of the incident, the reverberations of which continue to this day, for both the community of Albany and the students and their families (my emphases).

Darren McNally, current principal of Albany High (he was a newbie administrator in 2017, when the Instagram account was discovered), reflected on the students involved:

“…When he thinks about them, which is often, [McNally] thinks about the importance of teaching empathy and interpersonal connection, of helping students connect the dots between the more abstract lessons about injustice they receive in the classroom and the immediate impacts of their own actions on the human beings sitting in the desks next to them. ‘These kids had been instructed that these things are bad on an intellectual level,’ he said, referring to the racism and sexism of the (Instagram account), ‘but not on a deeper interpersonal and emotional level. And so they knew it would be transgressive, it would be edgy to do this, but didn’t understand the harm that could come from it.’

Schools can bridge that gap, McNally suggests, by building a capacity for reflection among young people who may not be in the habit of thinking deeply about their own or other people’s emotions. But doing so requires moving beyond the conventional calculations of school discipline, in which the menu of responses to bullying or hate speech is limited to three choices: ignore, suspend or expel. When the Albany community demanded the harshest possible retribution, it was in part because few people could imagine an alternative that didn’t amount to shrugging it off or sweeping it under the rug. ‘We live in a society that is so punishment-focused, that is so focused on turning people into right and wrong and then punishing wrongness, that it’s incredibly difficult to get people out of that mind-set,’ he says. ‘It makes me think about how we as a society have actually trained everybody that exclusion is what you do to people that are not right.’



Like McNally, (then) assistant principal Melisa Pfohl has found herself in a contemplative frame of mind since the resolution of the lawsuits. Back in 2017, she interviewed every student she knew who was involved on both sides of the account. Each of their stories was different; many were heartbreaking. It is those overlooked particularities that she mourns now, the complexities that were lost in the rush to respond to the community’s desire for immediate action and stern retribution.

Back then, it felt as if she were in the middle of a conflagration. ‘It was a fire line…and so everybody was passing the buckets.’ Her eyes fill with tears at the recollection. ‘Some of us, me included, accidentally picked up some gas. We didn’t know it, right? We were just passing the bucket. And I’m sorry that it was gasoline. I didn’t mean to do any harm. I tried to pick up plenty of buckets of water. But when it’s all moving so quickly like that, it all looks the same.’  “


What’s in your bucket?


*   *   *

Department Of I Don’t Know About Y’all, But After That Topic
I’m In Need Of A Visit From My Emotional Support Peek-A-Boo Sloth  [3]



*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [4]

(From,   [5] a letter to the editor.  The letter writer was addressing a gay pastor (the subject of the article) who’d expressed being surprised by the homophobia of a South Carolina congregation ):

“Read your bible.
The people that hate you are the ones who are acting biblically.
Sorry if you didn’t realize that your job teaching fairy tales to adults
wouldn’t have some down sides.

You can’t keep people ignorant and expect them to be intelligent when it suits your personal needs.”



*   *   *

May we realize the down sides of teaching fairy tales as facts;
May the boys who started that Instagram post grow up and grow a pair –
a pair of kindness antennae,
to alert them to when they’re being hurtful jackasses;
May we be careful which bucket we pass when we’re trying to douse a fire;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1]  Six of the followers were white; the rest were Asian, Latino or Middle Eastern.

[2] I have not yet read the book.

[3] A sloth is deserving of a footnote.   Here it is.

[4] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation,

[5] I don’t have the link to the article, which was posted years ago.  I was so taken with the response that i wrote it down but forgot to note the reference.  Bad journalist – oh; wait, I’m not a journalist.