Facebook, free speech, high school: How far is too far?

Two high school students were suspended over posting a photo of a teacher on Facebook and making negative comments, highlighting the battle between appropriate conduct versus free speech. A high school principal and school board supervisor weigh in with their insights. In an age of cyber bullying and defamation, a solution should be simpler than we think — don’t be someone online you wouldn’t be offline.

Windsor Star
article “Facebook Face-off: students, teachers in free-speech clash,” written by Craig
Pearson, highlights the growing battle of suitable conduct versus free speech
in the age of the Internet.


The digital world has made it
so that everyone is a citizen journalist, an e-journalist and a grassroots
journalist. The Internet has made it so that everyone can be published — not
just professional journalists and academics — even teenagers.


Two students from Amherstburg
Ontario’s General Amherst high school were suspended because of their
activities on Facebook: one made negative comments on the photo of a teacher,
which was posted by the other.


Though being aware that
students must remain respectful while online, one student opposes the idea of
the school ‘creeping’ — in Facebook terms — their accounts. But in defense,
General Amherst’s principal Mary Edwards highlights that inappropriate
communications found by students, parents or staff are a threat and need to be
treated as such.


Principal Edwards notes how internet issues are new to schools. In the bigger digital scheme of things, “the internet, cell phones, text messaging, and the advancement of technology, have
created an added burden on the job,” says John Ulicny, assistant supervisor of
education responsible for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board’s
(WECDSB) safe-school program.


In attempts to deal with
online issues, the WECDSB launched the Getting Along Digitally program. In
addition, computer use guideline policies and the Education Act help to keep
students behaved and in-line — online — and safe from unseemly behavior such as
cyber bullying.


Even if Facebook comments are
erased, statuses are updated and photos are hidden, all it takes is for
information to have once been captured via a screenshot or to be ‘Cached’ by
Google for it to remain in the digital arena.


Pearson asks “Still, in
a democratic society, citizens have the right to free speech as well as the
right to be free from harassment. Yet how does society reconcile the two?”
Thus, the chicken-and-egg debate continues, circling without an exact solution — in the age of free and opinionated Internet users — to the question of how
far is too far?


Or maybe the general solution
is simpler than we think: don’t be someone online who you wouldn’t be offline.