Memes give kids power

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 07/09/2012
Hamilton Girls' High School meme
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ORLY? Hamilton Girls' High School has started another meme page despite the original one being shut down.

High School memes
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Hamilton Girls' High School

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Students who taunt their teachers by posting offensive pictures on Facebook may feel empowered by their actions.

That's the expert opinion of clinical psychologist Carrie Barber, who said high school meme pages could be seen as a power struggle.

"It could also be seen in terms of power relationships - they may gain some sense of power by this kind of indirect aggression, and also belonging - the students form a group, against the authority figures."

Dr Barber was referring to a number of meme pages that students have created on Facebook to post funny, and often offensive, comments about their school, staff and other students.

Most Hamilton secondary schools have a dedicated meme page.

As reported in the Waikato Times yesterday, Hamilton Girls' High School's page was shut down on Wednesday, after principal Mary Ann Baxter threatened disciplinary action. However, a new meme page was started even before that was shut down.

One of the new pictures made fun of the school's attempts to have the initial page removed, saying: "So, you tried to take away freedom of speech. Please, tell me how that worked out."

Ms Baxter said some of the pictures on the original page directed at teachers were abusive.

However, Dr Barber said it was a "tricky balance" between the students' right to freedom of expression and the teachers' right not to be publicly ridiculed.

While this sort of rebellion among youth was nothing new, she said the internet, and social media websites such as Facebook, had magnified the impact of rude and abusive behaviour.

"If it was a group of kids hanging out after school, talking about teachers and making jokes, maybe even rude ones or imitating teachers in some mocking way, it would probably not be causing a stir. It is the fact that it becomes widespread and public that gives it power."

Dr Barber, a senior psychology lecturer and director of clinical training at Waikato University, said students' capacity for making judgements, containing impulses and recognising the impact of their actions were still developing.

These "executive functions" continued to develop into the mid-20s.

She called for more education around social media and the importance of "thinking before you post".

Secondary Schools' Association president Patrick Walsh supported Ms Baxter's action against the meme page.

"Unfortunately cyberspace has become a bit of a Wild West for students and they've been able to act with impunity - say what they like without any thought or repercussions."

However, Waikato Times readers on Facebook said the meme pages were "a bit of a laugh" and examples of free speech.

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- Waikato Times

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