Ohio 7th-grader suspended for ‘liking’ Instagram photo of airsoft gun

A 13-year-old student in Ohio was suspended last week for liking a photo on Instagram because school officials said it indicated “potential school violence.”

The picture? An airsoft gun, which shoots pellets.


The image was captioned “Ready,” and Zachary Bowlin double-tapped the image to “like” it.

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The seventh-grader’s father Marty Bowlin told NBC affiliate WLWT that the other student who posted the image often plays airsoft with Zachary and other neighbourhood children. The student who posted the image was also suspended.

“It was 10 days suspension with the possibility of expulsion. I’m like, ‘For liking a gun? Did he make a comment or threat or anything?’ And it’s like, ‘No. He just liked a picture.’ I’m like, ‘Well, this can’t happen,’” said Bowlin.

Zachary’s suspension was eventually lifted on Monday after his parents spoke to administrators, but the young man’s father said he was initially “livid” when he found out about the punishment that was handed down.

The 13-year-old told Fox19 that the morning after he liked the photo on Instagram, he was treated with suspicion by the administration.

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“The next morning they called me down [to the office], patted me down and checked me for weapons,” he said.

The superintendent for Zachary’s school, Russ Fussnecker, said the school was erring on the side of caution.

“When you’re dealing with school districts nowadays and there are pictures of guns, regardless of the kind of gun it is, it’s a gun,” he said. “And there are certain images or words, I can’t determine if that’s playful or real.”

Andrew Clement, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and expert on online surveillance said this was a classic case of what happens in “a climate of fear and anxiety.”

“Even minor risks that surface through social media surveillance can lead to over-reaction. The combination of fear and systematic, wide-ranging surveillance creates many ‘false positives,’” said Clement.

“In the anxiety to catch the potential ‘terrorist’ or school shooter authorities cast a wide net, so a lot of innocent behaviour gets caught up in it. We need to have a much more sensible understanding of what constitutes real risk. We also need to back off on some of this excessive surveillance, while handling justified surveillance much more carefully.”

In March, a five-year-old from North Carolina was suspended for using a stick as an imaginary gun during a playground game, and in April, a six-year-old from South Carolina faced a similar punishment for pointing stacked toy blocks like a gun.

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