As soon as a piece of technology becomes ubiquitous, pre-teens, teenagers and young adults tend to put it to questionable uses. This is the case with the proliferation of smart phones – cell phones that come equipped with an internet connection and a camera, among other features – and “sexting,” the practice of taking explicit photographs and sending them via email or text message.
According to legal experts queried by the Detroit News, sexting is growing nationwide. Several school districts across the nation have begun informational campaigns to warn students about danger of sending explicit material to friends over the internet, but one school district in Michigan is taking the fight against the practice to the next level.
This month, the Troy School District Board of Eduction adopted an anti-sexting policy that warns students that their computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones could be subject to search if there’s a reasonable suspicion that sexually explicit materials could be found on them. Furthermore, if such material is found on the device, local authorities might be notified.
This is the first policy of its kind to specifically address sexting in the Detroit Metro Area. District officials say that they felt they had to implement these rules to stem the growth of sexting, but say that they weren’t prompted by any specific incident.
“It was just a matter of being proactive and recognizing that unfortunately across the United States with the proliferation of communication devices and social media, it’s … only a matter of time before this may occur,” said Rich Machesky, Troy’s assistant superintendent for secondary instruction.
The policy, however, has attracted the attention of the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which expressed concern at how broadly Troy’s policy defines materials of sexual nature. In fact, depending on how the guidelines are interpreted, even something as benign as a biology textbook could be considered off limits. They have also raised questions about the school’s willingness to turn over students’ private property to the law enforcement authorities, asking if the school administrators had the legal power to do so.
“Usually, this is kids being irresponsible and careless and certainly not criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated that way,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU Michigan.
According to a poll conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in partnership with CosmoGirl.com, nearly 20% of teen girls admitted to taking nude, or semi-nude pictures of themselves and sending them to boyfriends or posting them online. More than third of boys admitted to receiving such pictures from either their girlfriends or from their friends, who shared messages that were meant to be private.