Can Schools Punish Students for Posting Offensive Content on MySpace and Similar Sites? Often, the Answer Is No, Unless The Posting Materially Disrupts School Activities:
This is a great article from FindLaw about blogging, students, and the First Amendment and whether or not schools can punish students for blog posts they make at home. And I’m not saying it’s a great article because I get a mention in it. 😀 I hear a lot of cries of “But..but..but it’s free speech and its protected by the First Amendment”. Well now hopefully this article should clear a few things up…
Cases Where Postings Violate the Law, or Provide Evidence of Its Violation
These sites – though a boon to students in many ways – have also raised their share of problems. And some of the problems may also involve torts, or violations of the criminal law.
In some instances, students engage in cyber-bullying — making critical remarks about other students or teachers. If these postings are factual, false, and damaging, they may count as defamation. The sites cannot be sued: Under a key provision of the Communications Decency Act, web intermediaries – those who merely allow others to post their own comments and photos – are not liable for defamation. But the authors can be.
Sometimes postings may be evidence of law-violation: In photos, underage subjects may be shown in sexually provocative poses, or shown smoking or drinking, or holding firearms. For instance, a 16-year-old boy in Jefferson, Colorado was arrested after police — having seen pictures on his MySpace page in which he was holding handguns – found the weapons in his home. And in late April, police reportedly intercepted a Columbine-style plot in Kansas on the basis of a threatening email posted on MySpace.com.
And sometimes postings may themselves violate the law – making criminal threats, or constituting harassment. In Costa Mesa, California, twenty students were suspended from TeWinkle Middle School for two days for participating in a MySpace group where one student allegedly threatened to kill another and made anti-Semitic remarks.
So let this be a lesson to you that not all speech is protected under the First Amendment. And if you’re in a private school you’re out of luck.