by Trung Hieu
In recent years, a number of parents and teachers have expressed worries over how some Vietnamese students were using Facebook.
The students in question had expressed themselves on the social networking site too freely, using vulgar words, curses and insults against others, including their own parents and teachers, and speaking ill of, isolating and threatening friends.
"Living with our children in the virtual world is not easy at all," admitted Nguyen Thu Hang, a mother residing in Ha Noi.
"I used to know nothing about information technology. While all of my colleagues have accounts in Facebook, I didn't care about it," she said. "But after my daughter, a fifth grade student, joined Facebook, I had to join too."
Hang managed to learn how to create and use her own Facebook account. She agreed to allow her daughter to use Facebook only if she gave her password to her parents and included them among her Facebook friends.
"Moreover, my daughter must promise to aim and work for good study results and ensure that her status on Facebook remains temperate," she added.
Parents' worries over children's access to Facebook stems from real-life experiences, some of them tragic.
Last year, an eighth grade student from Quang Nam Province was nearly suspended from school for "opposing examinations and speaking badly about teachers" on Facebook.
In Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem District, a schoolgirl was lured to her boyfriend's home and was sexually abused. She and the culprit had been friends on Facebook for only one week.
We can't deny the attraction of social networking sites, where the status of students are quickly spread around the world.
The greatest advantage of Facebook is its ability to quickly connect people with others, thereby expanding their network of friends and acquaintances and making it much easier for them to share information with others.
But its greatest disadvantage results from this advantage. On Facebook, young and gullible students can be exposed to harmful information.
To cope with this problem, many countries have implemented programmes that teach students how to use the Internet, including those in primary schools in the United Kingdom and the Anthony Spangler Elementary School in the United States.
In Viet Nam, the Luong The Vinh Private High School in Ha Noi was the first to restrain its students from defaming others on Facebook.
The school website recently issued a notice requiring its students to refrain from using Facebook to defame anyone and to oppose unhealthy content.
The students were told to refrain from talking dirty and cursing even in the form of acronyms. They were encouraged to express themselves and describe their status in plain, simple, clear and pure Vietnamese to avoid misunderstandings with friends or anyone else.
The school administrators consider Facebook a place to show each individual's culture, so they asked their students to carefully consider what they were writing before posting on their status, clicking the "like" button or making a comment.
"Students may click the 'like' button only after carefully reading the Facebook post. If you click 'like' on abusive content, you must be held responsible. You need to fight or express your views against offensive and unhealthy posts," the website said.
The school administrators stressed that their students must not speak ill of anyone on Facebook.
Less than a day after the announcement was uploaded on the school's Facebook page, it received more than 2,000 likes and nearly 1,500 comments.
The announcement quickly drew the attention of its students, as well as students of other high schools. A lot of conflicting opinions from netizens about the new regulation were posted.
Many Facebook users disagreed over the restrictive practices. One comment reads: "I don't understand why the school issued this silly and ridiculous rule that can only threaten immature students."
Little Robin, another user, shared this view: "I'm not a student of this school, but I also know about your 'witty' regulation. I don't think Facebook should be strictly controlled like that. Anyway, we are mature and can be responsible for ourselves."
Facebook user Phuc Dollar said: "Facebook is the personal and private space of students and not a camp that must have rules. The personality of a human is not seen merely in what he or she says. We cannot determine whether persons who speak politely are actually wicked. Viet Nam's education will lag behind if there are such rules."
A good number of users believe the rules will make students suffer too much.
"Well, it is better to move to other schools for pleasure or even stay at home," wrote Facebook user N.V.T.
But many users expressed support for the rules.
"We are students, and the school is educating us on how to be responsible for our words. If the school lets you continue with such [dirty] words, this will affect not only your honour but also the school's honour," wrote Ha Nguyen.
"If you maintain those bad habits, that really is not good for your future life. All that the teachers want to do is to build a better future for their students. If you don't believe this, when you make your way in the world and think about it, you will understand that this is quite right."
Professor Van Nhu Cuong, the school principal, said he was quite concerned about students' use of Facebook and their immersion in and preoccupation with that virtual world.
"The situation of students who use Facebook without control should be considered alarming. We need to have measures that will ensure order," he said.
He noted that many students would make irresponsible posts on Facebook about many things, including stories that they had merely imagined but had actually not happened, in order to attract views, likes and comments.
"Last year, our school had to dismiss two students who used Facebook to express themselves in ways that violated student ethics. When we invited their parents to come to see what these students had written on Facebook, the parents were shocked because their children used dirty words to describe their teachers and families," the professor revealed.
Regarding public opinions that opposed the restrictions, Cuong said the students must take responsibility for their words and actions.
"I don't want to let bad things happen, then discuss about whether to expel the students involved. I want to warn them in advance so they can avoid bad things. They should know how to adjust their own behavior, particularly when they are engaging with the online community," he added.
Psychologist Le Thi Tuy of the Happiness and Living Skill Consultancy Centre in Ha Noi said such regulations could not be strictly applied, but they generally aim for a good purpose at a time when social networks were flourishing.
"Parents should act as fellow travellers for their children, watching them carefully in order to orient them. Parents should know how to control information that their children receive. This will help protect the children from being lured by bad people, or from becoming addicted to the virtual world," Tuy added.
To Ten Phu, a student's nickname, remarked: "I think that if the teachers want their students to change activities, first they must change students' perceptions of this issue so that they can follow the teachers' instructions. Teachers should use soft measures such as chat and advice instead of writing a list of rigid taboos."
"I hope we can find a solution that can be applied in the most appropriate way. I don't understand that is just the Luong The Vinh School's issue, but why do students from other schools have such a strong reaction?" — VNS