Law

The Freedom of Speech; Cyberbullying!

The dawn of the digital age, brings a voice to anyone with an internet connection. People can voice their views upon the ears and eyes of the world. I think, with this dawn and the levelling of the playing field brings many positives along with some negatives. Take cyber bullying for example and freedom of expression.

 cyberbullying image

Dealing with students freedom of speech

For example, although Texan laws ban cyberbullying, students’ First Amendment rights actually limit how schools react in terms of disciplining students for speech that may be posted on the internet and away from campus.

The free-speech protections for students were faced with a major challenge in the 1960s. The principal of a school in Des Moines, Iowa, took the decision to suspend a students for wearing black armbands in protest to the war in Vietnam. Although the school district had claimed that this was a disruptive act, the US Supreme Court actually sided with the students: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

It was ruled by the court that in justifying the censorship of student speech, the school administration would need to prove that the speech would somehow “substantially and materially” interfere with the school’s operations.

Ever since, federal courts have reverted to this standard when attempting to deal with student speech which happens off campus, even while trying to deal with what one could consider as cyberbullying.

So I ask, what does this mean now in this digital age?

Notable case 1

J.C. v. Beverly Hills Unified School District (2009). J.C. was 13 years old and a student in California. The student went with some friends to a restaurant off-campus. J.C. video recorded them using profanities to ridicule some other student there, C.C. Using the computer at home, J.C. uploaded this to the internet as a Youtube video and let other students know, including C.C., who naturally became very upset about it and subsequently reported it to their school.

School administrators decided to suspended J.C. although there wasn’t any evidence that any student saw the video on school property. The school district took the argument that they had to deal with an upset parent and that student along with five other students missing classes due to the investigation.

Who won the case? STUDENT. The district court took sides with J.C., ruling that the aforementioned things didn’t justify enough, any meaningful disruption at the school.

Notable case 2

Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools (2011). Kara Kowalski was a senior at a high school in South Carolina. She used her own computer to set up her MySpace page, S.A.S.H.. This acronym stood for Students Against Shay’s Herpes. Kara then invited other students to join this group, which made fun of a fellow student. One student did join this group while on a school computer. Shay’s parents and Shay decided to complain to the school officials. After which, she decided to leave school due to feeling uncomfortable. Officials did punish Kara due to establishing the “hate website.” Although Kara later attempted to sue.

Who won? SCHOOL.

Conclusion

I think there is a fine line between where cyberbullying starts and finishes. It’s difficult to quantify and the fact that social media is so prevalent now it makes it very difficult to police, especially from a school’s perspective. I think new legal frameworks should be worked on to deal with the potential of future cyber bullying cases.

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