Overheard At Tech–The Ethics Beneath The Fun

Overheard At Tech–The Ethics Beneath The Fun

Samiya Shamsur, Staff Writer

The rise of online interaction and student engagement has led to community pages like Overheard Tech Teachers (@overheard.tech.teachers), an Instagram account dedicated to documenting the words of teachers out of context. 

Despite the account being made as recently as January 2020, @overheard.tech.teachers already boasts an online following of over 3,000. This account markets itself as a comedic addition to student life at Tech with its bio stating: “Disclaimer: If a quote seems out of context, that’s because it probably is. Purely satirical. DM for removal.” For students eager to contribute to the page, there is a linked Google Form that receives hundreds of quotes and quips a day, ensuring that there is a consistent daily posting schedule. Of the many popular posts, there are infamous lines like: “[AP] Euro is about dead white people that slept with their cousins,” a quote associated with Mr. Trombetta that totaled 401 likes. Another post that racked in 612 likes used a statement by Mr. Zanotto, saying, “You’re a teenager. You start seeing your friends, siblings, classmates differently. Wait, not siblings, sorry.”

In an interview with The Survey, Quincy Mangi, the original founder of the account, said that the intent was to make a “fun satirical page that shouldn’t be taken too seriously.” Mangi (‘20), a former Industrial Design Major, is now a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University. She originally made the account with her friends in her junior year. At first, it was just a way to share funny quotes they heard in their classes, but Mangi and her friend group had not expected the page to skyrocket, which is mainly due to the combination of remote learning and quarantine boredom. Overhead Tech Teachers became a school-wide inside joke over the course of 2020. 

But the harmless fun was not appreciated by all members of the Tech community. In a recent incident, Mr. Avery, a teacher in the History department, was posted on the account for his remarks on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. While the fun in Overheard Tech Teachers comes from skewing offhand comments out of proportion, Mr. Avery was painted as making a derogatory statement that gave followers the impression that he was racist. In reality, he had been making a point on the pervasive trend of school shootings in the United States. 

The controversy escalated to a point at which Mr. Avery had to DM the account to take the post down, even warning @overheard.tech.teachers about taking legal action for defamation. When interviewed about the controversy, Mr. Avery reflected, “There are some risks, as a teacher you are saying things that any student can just chop off the endings to make you look foolish.” The risks, as Mr. Avery mentioned, are unequally distributed between Tech faculty and the students who submit to the page; while the student is able to remain anonymous on the Google form, only providing class year as an identity marker, teachers are mentioned by name and place of employment. Even if all the quotes are posted as pictures that cannot be easily found through a web search, any quote on the internet is forever. “There should be a comfort level where teachers can speak without worrying,” Mr. Avery added, since the potential risk for manipulation and being discredited will remain high. 

Other teachers, however, find the page to be a humorous collection of Tech’s class discussions. Ms. Germany, a teacher in the Law and Society Major who is frequently posted on the account, noted, “I think it’s hilarious…because most of it is taken out of context.” Though she did admit that “teachers should not think about it unless it paints them in a terrible light,” Mangi emphasized in her interview that the owner of the page would always take down anything that anyone finds uncomfortable or upsetting since its purpose is never to be malicious. 

As far as anyone knows, the current owner of the page after Mangi is an anonymous senior who plans to reveal their identity at the end of the year before passing Overheard Tech Teachers onto the next trusted student. “I think it’s a fun page for students to poke fun at and enjoy the silly things their teachers say. Any inter-teacher discussion is purely extra,” the owner said in response to Survey inquiries through direct message. 

The student consensus on the page largely aligns with these values. According to Zoë Reid (‘24),  @overheard.tech.teachers isn’t necessarily “an invasion of privacy because it is mainly satire. The joke is that things are taken out of context. That being said, if certain teachers truly feel strongly about not wanting to go on overheard, then their feelings should be acknowledged.” Another Tech sophomore, Sarah Mitchells (‘24) adds, “…overall it’s fine. A select few may be a borderline invasion of privacy, but it can be argued that it was said in the first place so that may not be the case.”

Although Overheard Tech Teachers is not a unique addition to the many school and college pages that exist on the internet, educators and administrators are slowly learning how to contend with incidents, such as Mr. Avery’s, which do cause accidental harm in the process of having fun. On one end, the jokes shared on the account are able to lighten the otherwise grueling school day of a Tech student, but on the other, teachers’ reputations can be tarnished at the tap of a finger.