Students & teachers speak out about social media and the First Amendment
During the spring of 2011, a study* was conducted about social media and “The Future of the First Amendment.” The survey included 12,000 students and 900 teachers in the United States.
It was determined that the more American teenagers use social media, the greater their understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment. For more than 40 years** students have enjoyed the same freedom of speech as adults. Although this First Amendment protection is not absolute, it does reach into the schoolhouse and students’ bedrooms. Understanding the limits of free speech is important for anyone wanting to express themselves without adverse consequences.
The Knight study found that a solid majority of teachers believe limits should be placed on what students say and do online. Only 36% support the right of students to post their opinions of teachers and administrators on the Internet. This is a surprising statistic when you consider the statements of the Supreme Court in the 1969 Tinker case: “the classroom is a marketplace of ideas and depends on a robust exchange of ideas;” and that “Undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.”
On the other hand, 91% of the teenagers polled believe they have the right to express unpopular opinions online or in a school newspaper. Remember, the First Amendment is designed to protect the rights of the minority. Consider, for example, rulings by the Supreme Court regarding desecration (burning) of the American flag, protests by anti-gay groups at military funerals, or public marches by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Supreme Court has not addressed the issue of student Internet free speech. Several cases*** are in position to go before the Court, but the nine justices have sole discretion to accept or reject any case brought to the Court.
**Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, U.S. Supreme Court (1969).
***Avery Doninger v. Niehoff (the Court refused to hear Avery’s case on October 31, 2011).