Censoring Student Speech Online

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It is an insight into the obvious to say that student speech is no longer limited to the classroom or campus quad, since increasing numbers of students are turning to the Internet to express their ideas. Administrators have taken note. With the Proliferation of blogs and social networking sites that allow students to post their thoughts (even streams of consciousness) online, campus administrators are stepping up their efforts to monitor this expression.  In so doing, they are extending the long arm of their student codes of conduct to punish student expression—not just on campus, but online. 

For example, Johns Hopkins University investigated a student for posting an “offensive” Halloween party invitation on his Facebook profile last year.  FIRE has been on the case, but so far, the university has persisted in its investigation. 

Likewise, a high school in Connecticut punished a student for venting about school policy on her blog.  The student sued and the district court held that her speech disrupted the school environment, even though there was little evidence that students actually knew about her blog rant.  That case is now on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and you can bet money that university attorneys are watching closely.  Free speech advocates are also watching—see the amicus brief recently filed by Student Press Law Center.

Contrary to their oft-advertised commitments to free speech, universities love to cite primary and secondary school case law that takes a limited view of students’ constitutional rights on campus.  This limited view of students’ rights coincides with their views on “diversity” and desire to create a “utopian” (read:  single-minded) campus community. 

So what is a college student to do?  Stop posting invites to your student club meetings on Facebook and Twitter?  Shut down that blog discussing pro-life issues?  Absolutely not—continue speaking out on issues that are important to you.  The First Amendment protects your right to express your views, via the Internet or more traditional means.  And if administrators come knocking at your dorm room door because of your expression, contact the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

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