Discussion topic: free speech and social networking | government

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Discussion Topic: Free Speech and Social Networking 



Recently a number of cases have considered the extent to which free speech rights extend to social networking sites such as Facebook.  Consider the following articles: 


Facebook gripes protected by free speech, ruling says February 16, 2010|By Rich Phillips, CNN Senior Producer 



A former Florida high school student who was suspended by her principal after she set up a Facebook page to criticize her teacher is protected constitutionally under the First Amendment, a federal magistrate ruled. 


U.S. Magistrate Barry Garber’s ruling, in a case viewed as important by Internet watchers, denied the principal’s motion to dismiss the case and allows a lawsuit by the student to move forward. 


“We have constitutional values that will always need to be redefined due to changes in technology and society,” said Ryan Calo, an attorney with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. 


“The fact that students communicate on a semi-public platform creates new constitutional issues and the courts are sorting them out,” Calo said. 


Katherine Evans, now 19 and attending college, was suspended in 2007 from Pembroke Pines Charter High School after she used her home computer to create a Facebook page titled, “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met.” 


In his order, Garber found that the student had a constitutional right to express her views on the social networking site. 


“Evans’ speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech,” he wrote. “It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus … was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior.” 


Matthew Bavaro, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Evans, was pleased with the ruling. 


“The First Amendment provides protection for free speech regardless of the forum, being the Internet, the living room or a restaurant,” he told CNN. 


On the Facebook page created by Evans, which included a picture of her teacher, Evans wrote: “To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred.” 


According to court documents, Phelps never saw the posting, which was made from a home computer after school hours. 


After receiving three comments from people who criticized her and supported the teacher, Evans removed the page from Facebook. 


School principal Peter Bayer suspended Evans, an honor student, for three days for disruptive behavior and cyberbullying of a staff member. Bayer also removed her from Advanced Placement classes and assigned her to regular classes. 


Bavaro, Evans’ attorney, is seeking to have the court find the school’s suspension invalid and to have documents related to the suspension removed from her school file. 


“It will eliminate any official public record and validate her rights, since her First Amendment rights were violated,” he said. 


Internet experts say the court got it right, and that the ruling shows the law evolving with society. 



“It reassures Internet users and students that they can still speak their mind,” Calo said. “Its not a security issue. Its personal opinion and gossip.” 




http://articles.cnn.com/2010-02-16/tech/facebook.speech.ruling_1_facebook-social-networking-site- first-amendment/2?_s=PM:TECH 

Related Stories 


The First Amendment Center has several good articles on free speech and social networking.  These can be found at: 


 Discussion Starter 



To what extent do you believe that comments posted on social networking sites should be protected?  Under what circumstances should these rights be limited?  Consider several of the scenarios above (community colleges limiting a student’s right to “complain” about instructors; the nursing student’s dismissal, the firefighter’s dismissal etc…) 

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