Free speech and the right to Facebook

Marchaè Grair

It’s been a long day, and you just can’t stand your professor. You go home and log into the one place that makes most college kids feel at home: Facebook. You start a group expressing your frustration with your professor and delete the page a few days later when you’ve finished venting.

And then, you end up in court.

Sound a little far-fetched?

That’s exactly what happened to Florida teen Katherine Evans when she started a Facebook group to complain about her high school teacher. Evans, who is now a sophomore in college, was suspended for three days by her former principal, Peter Bayer, for “cyberbullying,” according to The New York Times.

Bayer recently requested that a federal judge throw out a lawsuit by Evans. The lawsuit requests that the suspension is expunged from Evans’ records, in violation of her First Amendment rights.

The judge agreed to let the hearing proceed in what may be a landmark case, defining the rights of social media users.

While I choose to handle my frustrations with my professors via e-mail or office hours, I couldn’t help but take interest in this case. Evans may have been slightly immature in the outlet of her frustration, but her right to express that frustration must be protected. The student was not threatening her teacher and has every right to express displeasure with her learning experience.

Social media Web sites, especially Facebook, are home to a lot of silly photos, useless applications and unnecessary status updates.

But social media are also a strong platform for our generation to unite for common causes, reveal what the mainstream media won’t and formulate discussions about what can be better.

Allowing a high school principal to censor Evans would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech. Just because a video runs on YouTube or a group protests on Facebook doesn’t mean those forms of speech should have any less protection under the Constitution.

While speech on social media sites will likely be protected, I must also play devil’s advocate.

The protection of communication rights comes with responsibilities. The cyber world can also be unkind, and information — both negative and positive — spreads faster than ever on the Web.

Sites such as Facebook that allow people to set up personal profiles often feel more personal than they could ever be. Facebook is not a diary, and it takes most people a few embarrassing photos or comments to realize what they post can never be erased, though it may be deleted.

I will always stand up for people’s rights to express themselves, but people also have the right to make good judgments. Evans surely had substantial grounds to complain, but people who post first and think last may regret their decisions that cannot be cleared in a courtroom.

Marchaè Grair is a senior electronic media management major and columnist for The Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at .