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Social media ethics: Reader comments


Students will read and discuss a case study from Mill Valley High School in Kansas about an article that actually caused a disturbance in school because social media extended the opportunities for readers to respond to the article.


  • Students will explain the ethical and legal issues surrounding social media.
  • Students will analyze and critique an article that caused a disturbance in a Shawnee, Kan., high school.
  • Students will discuss and evaluate how the Mill Valley High School journalism students, adviser and administrators responded to the explosion of social media comments on their Facebook page and website.
  • Students will suggest possible policy guidelines that scholastic journalism programs should adopt to prevent a disturbance in school, treat all sources ethically, serve their audience, and report in a fair and balanced manner.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6  Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1  Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


60-70 minutes


Slideshow: Ethics of social media slideshow

Handout: Ethics of social media slideshow notes

Handout: MVHS article

Handout: MVHS article prep

Handout: MVHS social media ethics case study

Handout: MVHS social media ethics homework debrief

Rubric: Social media post rubric

Additional information: Useful links

Case study rubric

Computer, projector or document camera

Lesson step-by-step

1. Previous day’s homework — 0 minutes in this class

Distribute the handouts MVHS article and MVHS article prep in advance with enough time for students to be able to read, process and prepare their response before coming to class.

2. Slideshow and notes — 15-20 minutes

Distribute the ethics of social media notes and go through the accompanying slideshow.

3. Large group discussions — 5-10 minutes

Solicit student reactions to the article, using the following questions or developing your own:

a.      What was your reaction to the article?

b.      How might each of the following groups of people respond to the article?

i.                   Football players

ii.                   Band students

iv.                  Basketball players

v.                  Parents of football players

vi.                  Parents of band or basketball students

vii.                   Members of the community without children

viii.                   Principal

ix.                  Teachers

x.                  Football coach

xi.                  Band, drama, or basketball coaches/sponsors

c.      Do you think this article would cause a disturbance if printed in a high school newspaper? Yearbook? Website?

4. Read the case study — 15-25 minutes

Distribute the MVHS social media case study and give students time to read, react to the story of what happened, and develop their critique of how the journalism students, adviser and administrators reacted to the situation. Consider using the case study rubric to grade this work.

5. Large group discussion — 10-15 minutes

Solicit responses and reactions from each group, especially focusing on students’ evaluations of the various groups of people at MVHS.

6. Homework assignment — remaining class time

Distribute homework assignment handout MVHS social media ethics homework debrief for students to develop 3-5 ideas for policies that the MVHS journalism students could have implemented to prevent the situation or to govern how they would deal with such a situation in advance. Students should describe each possible policy with 3-5 sentences.