Ethics Backlash After Private School’s Social Media Experiment Goes Wrong. Badly.

Take care on social media, there’s no telling who is watching you

Parents are “ropeable” after an unethical social media experiment backfired at a private girls’ school in Christchurch.

According to a report by, staff at St Margaret’s College helped Year 12 students set up social media accounts on a variety of media platforms. The accounts were established as part of a “health project” on cyber safety and citizenship.

As part of the project, Year 10 students were “individually invited to a Snapchat account called “Merrivale Gossip Girl”, where they used the photo messaging service to share personal information.They did so unaware that teachers controlled the account.

Understandably, once the girls found out the account was part of a school project they felt “tricked”. Their parents aren’t too happy either.:

A source close to the school said parents were “ropeable” about what happened.

There had been talk about how it had upset already fragile young women and parents were talking amongst themselves about what action could be taken.

In a statement, executive principal Gillian Simpson said year 12 students had conducted research projects as part of their NCEA health studies for several years.

Some of the projects involved creating and monitoring social media accounts to help students and their parents or caregivers better understand the risks of inappropriate online communications… read on

Privacy concerns

Ironically, the school’s principal couldn’t discuss the nature of the complaints raised by parents due to privacy reasons. Its a shame the same sentiments weren’t expressed when the project was devised, nor when “precious” pupils were “individually invited” to use the Snapchat account without any knowledge of who was behind it, or why.

Victim blaming

In a letter from Simpson, to ‘allay’ parents’ concerns on Tuesday, it appears that some victim blaming may now be going on. Apparently its their daughters’ fault for their “inappropriate and unkind use of social media”

“There is some interesting data for us as a school and you as parents to understand.

“There has also been some upset and anxiety particularly from girls who have actively shared information. The learnings are hard hitting in some cases.”

Simpson said in the letter that a parent evening was planned for Monday with a panel of experts and chaired by her.

“We are in partnership with you in addressing the serious implications and potentially devastating results of inappropriate and unkind use of social media by your daughters.

“Please keep communicating with us. Your daughters are so precious to us all.”

Informed consent

There is no mention in the Stuff article if ethics approval was sought for the project, which looks like an experiment that involved minors without their consent. nor is there any clue as to what ethics actually means in New Zealand.

What happened to schools being safe places in which children feel empowered, nurtured and encouraged to develop into well rounded adults?

No wonder the victims are feeling aggrieved. Perhaps they should look for another fee paying school?

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3 thoughts on “Ethics Backlash After Private School’s Social Media Experiment Goes Wrong. Badly.

  1. I imagine these young people feel completely betrayed ,this seems similar to tricking them into exposing the contents of a personal diary,sticking your nose into somebody else’s private affairs is the Kiwi way.

  2. Privacy laws exist in New Zealand to protect the wrongdoers rather than the privacy of honourable people. One simply needs to look at the widespread misuse of name suppression to protect convicted criminals with connections whereas the government does not show the same solicitude towards everyone else.

  3. There goes that bullying/abusive culture again, and the ensuing cover-up. The Ministry of Education will back this all the way, it always does. Terribly sad, they should be ashamed of this deceitful behaviour, but they won’t be and nobody will hold these authority figures accountable. “Toughen up, girls!!”

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