North Texas Daily

Students deserve the right to freedom of speech on social media

Students deserve the right to freedom of speech on social media

Students deserve the right to freedom of speech on social media
September 20
11:34 2019

Imagine for a second that there is some really shady stuff going on at your school.

The administrators are threatening your compliance, and you’re not allowed to speak on the matter in classes or anywhere near a teacher. They’ve been instructed by their boss to direct you to a counselor if you talk about the subject ⁠— that subject being a sexual predator amongst your peers. 

Everyone knows it, but no one can say anything about it. He sits next to you in your classes and he performs in your plays. You feel trapped.

A friend of yours makes a tweet vaguely reflective of the situation. They make sure to void any names, institutions, specific situations or sensitive material from their tweet. It reads:

“If you support or protect sexual predators in any way, shape, or form, [screw] you.”

Doesn’t seem so bad, right? Just a passionate outcry against rape culture. An exercise of the First Amendment, if you will. The administrators don’t think so. They pull your friend in and threaten them with disciplinary action for the alleged “cyberbullying.”

They guilt them into fearing the tweet they wrote themself, and your friend offers to delete it in the end. Their twitter account was private. They had the administration blocked. How else were you to express your thoughts and feelings when you were drowned out by the walls of your classrooms? Is this even legal?

The short answer is no.

According to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, policies regarding the online and in person code of ethics vary by school district. The general requirement for any district policy is that any interaction between teachers and students on social media be professional and appropriate.

This is rather gray and subjective as far as a general policy goes. Objectively, digging through a student’s tweets in search of something that offends you is far from appropriate.

This very principle is simply an outrage.

Throughout high school this was a problem visited over and over again through assemblies, disciplinary action and threats of suspension, all in question of a student’s right to be outspoken over the internet. I was unable to speak up on the matter for reasons you may be able to imagine, yet it always baffled and infuriated me.

There is no reason that a student should not be able to empty their unspoken thoughts onto the internet. That is a decision they are capable of making. If you’re old enough to have a social media account, you’re old enough to claim responsibility for the things you say and defend them when questioned.

The point here is simple, though. Imposing upon a student’s freedom of speech, regardless of the platform, is a direct infringement upon their first amendment right.

As citizens in this country, we are granted the right to freedom of speech, religion, assembly and press, and attempting to monitor and control what a student says on social media is to control the very expression of their thoughts.

Generations past tend to complain that the youth are uneducated and unopinionated but deem our words inappropriate when expressed in the way we feel comfortable expressing them, which is about as frustrating as it sounds.

Don’t get me wrong, there are of course limitations to the freedom of speech that we have.

We are granted freedom of speech but not the freedom of consequence and are expected to face the repercussions of the words we choose to release, but that should not even come into play until something hateful or threatening is spoken.

If someone is tweeting about how they’re in favor of hate crimes, planning to shoot up a school or something to that extreme, there are of course concerns to be had by authority figures.

It is only then that investigations and searches of social media accounts are warranted. But for the mere expression of concern, frustration or even occasional pettiness, there is no reason to be digging through student social media only to condemn them for it. 

It’s demeaning and belittling and does nothing but encourage us to remain silent about opinions we may have.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Jazmin Wilson

Jazmin Wilson

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