Student’s private Facebook messages distributed by teacher
Cheerleaders at Pearl High School in Mississippi were required to disclose their login information and passwords to their social networking accounts. No reason was given but the girls thought it was to allow the coaches to check for photos of students drinking and smoking.
Fourteen-year-old freshman, Mandi Jackson, said that her coach was an authority figure and so she turned over her password. The coach found several profanity-laced messages between Mandi and another girl and shared them with other coaches, teachers, the principal and school superintendent. As a consequence, Mandi was removed from the team and kept from participating in related activities. Mandi was shunned by some of the students and her grades began to slip.
In June, 2009, Mandi and her parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, principal and coaches, claiming a violation of her rights to privacy, free speech, association and due process [meaning she was disciplined without a hearing]. Her messages to her friends were written at home. Mandi commented that “I would have been fine with the school officials looking at my public Facebook, but I think they went too far with getting my password and looking at my personal messages between me and my peers.”
Should Mandi have given out her password? Even if a teacher or coach demands it? Do you think her coach did anything wrong in sharing Mandi’s personal messages with others? Where do you draw the line between respecting a student’s privacy and appropriate discipline for profanity or content? Should there be any discipline for “profanity-laced” discourse?
Assuming Mandi’s privacy was violated by the coach, what would be an appropriate penalty or consequence in this case?
In June, 2014, Mandi advised us regarding her case as follows: “Even though my case hasn’t been solved, I do believe it started allowing others who were in my position to stand up for themselves no matter how small one person is against a school system, that’s what we wanted.” Lawsuits may drag on for years, as in Mandi’s case. It’s a consideration when deciding how to resolve a situation – with or without litigation.
Update: In April, 2012, a bill was introduced in Congress limiting the ability of employers and others to obtain your social networking account information including your login name and password. The bill is H.R. 5050 and called the Social Networking Online Protection Act. If passed by Congress, the bill carries a $10,000 fine. You can track the bill by going to www.govtrack.us, and type in H.R. 5050 for updates.
The latest: In Delaware, the legislature passed a law in 2012 prohibiting public and private colleges and universities from requiring students to provide their social media passwords. Furthermore, school officials cannot require students to add them as “friends” on their accounts, or ask the students to log on in their presence. House Bill 309 also called for its application to elementary and high schools, but this part was removed from the law before it passed.