Do you have a right to be nasty in cyberspace?
In November, 2009, a California court ruled against a school that suspended a student for two days because of a YouTube video she posted. It was taken in a restaurant close to Beverly Vista Middle School. A group of 8th-graders were talking about a classmate and referred to her as a brat, spoiled, and a slut.
The target of the video complained to a counselor who took the matter to the principal of the school. The student was upset about the four-minute video especially once word got out and half the school saw it. However, it wasn’t seen at school due to the blocking of YouTube on school computers. The school suspended J.C. for two days for posting it online.
J.C. challenged the suspension in court claiming a violation of her right to free speech. The court, in a lengthy 60-page decision, ruled against the school saying it “had gone too far” in disciplining J.C. “To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul of the law.” The court was obviously referring to the Tinker decision of 1969 where the disruption test was first announced.
Critics of the J.C. decision say the court was dismissive of emotional harm to students and failed to consider the video’s impact on the victim’s own educational performance and right to feel secure at school. They further argue that Tinker allows a school to regulate student speech that collides with the rights of other students to be secure and be let alone.
What do you think of this latest decision by a federal court regarding your speech including cruel comments vs. your right as a student to be safe from verbal attacks by others? Where do you draw the line between behavior that may draw discipline at school and behavior that must be tolerated in support of First Amendment freedoms? How is the Internet affecting your role in society and your relationship with others? Do you feel you can be more aggressive online? Do you write things in chatrooms or in blogs that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face? Why is that?
Find out more about Internet freedom of speech and the types of online comments that could result in consequences.