In recent months, people in Montgomery County have shown the good and the bad of electronic expression.
As we noted in January, critics launched a blizzard of ugly remarks at Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr when the district did not shut down one particularly cold day.
The remarks we saw on Twitter were appalling, using blistering language and insults, including a few veiled threats.
More recently, Montgomery County football program supporters showed more humanity when they reacted to Thomas S. Wootton High School coach Tyree Spinner losing his job.
Spinner’s fans were outwardly upset, but showed that it’s possible to be outspoken yet civil. The messages we saw on a Twitter feed created to fight for Spinner’s job never got mean or personal. Even a direct appeal to Starr stuck to the message, with no meanness.
A new school system task force on “cybercivility,” or appropriate online behavior, should hold up the Spinner protest movement as a model.
The task force will meet once a month from March to August. Parents, students, staff members and community members can apply to participate through Feb. 24 at www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/cybercivility/application.aspx.
When anonymity crowds out face-to-face contact, it kills accountability. Through social media, especially, people with screen names say things they’d never say if their identities were known. Others read it and join in, forming a vicious online mob.
We support the school system and Starr, who have shown remarkable restraint and tolerance for behavior that’s far out of bounds.
Of course, no one has to wait for a task force to set an exemplary social atmosphere. Students can gain respect for their opinions by earning it. Parents can instill decency, then set rewards and punishments to affirm it.
As the Spinner episode unfolded, we learned that other school officials are doing their part — such as Dave Mencarini, Quince Orchard High School’s football coach until he recently left for a coaching job in Frederick County.
Mencarini said he follows his players on Twitter and reads what they post. It’s not snooping; this is public conversation, which is exactly the point.
We second the advice he gives players: “There’s two things in this world you can’t get back and that’s time and what you put on the Internet.”