Seventh grade student Zach Bowlin was suspended from school with the potential for expulsion for ten days after he ‘liked’ a photo of a friend’s airsoft pistol on Instagram with the caption “Ready”. Zach’s friend was also suspended. It happened at Edgewood Middle School in Trenton, Ohio on Thursday, May 4, 2017.
The boy’s mother called Marty Bowlin, Zach’s father, with the news that Zach was “being suspended because he liked a picture on Instagram that his friend posted… of a weapon, of an airsoft gun.” Bowlin was also informed the ten-day suspension could escalate to a full expulsion from school. Bowlin was stunned and said, “Well, this can’t happen.”
Zach, who hunts, fishes, and shoots, and his friends regularly play with their airsoft guns in a field near his home, under the supervision of Zach’s parents. The boy says his Instagram ‘like’ was innocent: “I figured he’d cleaned his gun and was ready, wanting to play and stuff.”
An assistant principal at the middle school wrote the reason for Zach’s suspension was, “Liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.” Edgewood Schools Superintendent Russ Fussnecker said an investigation was necessary because some students were so upset about the image, they didn’t go to school.
Fussnecker said, “And at the end of the day… … parents will forgive us for certain things. They’re not going to forgive us if their kid doesn’t come home.” The Superintendent also referenced an incident last year at nearby Madison Township Junior-Senior High School in which four students were injured.
Zach’s parents met with Fussnecker on Friday afternoon. After Zach explained his reasons for liking the Instagram photo, his suspension was lifted and he will be allowed to return to school. Zach says, “It’s handled now and everything’s all right.”
For his friend, however, the suspension is still in place. The young man’s parents will meet with school officials some time next week to discuss this issue further. “Hopefully everything works out for the young man in question, that posted it,” Marty Bowlin said.
This incident is another reminder that anything posted on social media can and may be used against you in any number of situations. Employers will often check your public profiles before hiring, and periodically throughout your employment. Schools can follow their students and see what they post from day to day.
A good rule of thumb is if you don’t want something to be scrutinized in the public eye, don’t post it on social media. Even if your profile is private, this does not guarantee your post will remain that way. Most smartphones today allow for quick and easy “screenshots” of whatever is being viewed, and anyone can take a picture of a post and re-share it.
Parents should also monitor their kids’ social media habits, and teach kids what may or may not be ‘socially acceptable’ to post on their profiles. This incident could have gotten out of hand even if the young man had posted, say, a photo of a target with the caption “Ready.”
Remember, social media is black-and-white; posting things on these sites prevents the viewer from reading body language and other cues to ascertain the tone of the post. Without these visual clues, posts are up for interpretation, and anything can be easily misunderstood.