Free Speech Vs. School Rules: A Social Media Debate

Informative Article


Should free speech apply to students who use social media during school hours?


by Pranav Arun

Social media and school have become more and more interconnected in the past few years. Students find a need to express themselves on social media to voice opinions on certain topics. However, at school, their freedom of speech is limited by the school’s policies. At school, using profanity or doing anything that violates the regulations can lead to large consequences. Yet, if you do this outside of school you are protected by free speech. But what about on social media? Should social media pertaining to school be controlled within the school rules, or should it be under free speech?


The first court case concerning free speech in school was Tinker vs. Des Moines, where a girl wore a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam War. At first, the school punished her because students at that time were not allowed to make bold statements with the armbands, but later it was ruled that free speech stands during school as well. More recently, free speech still is important at school, except it is more restricted when it comes to profanity. In a recent case, the girl who criticized her school with profanity on Snapchat was at first penalized by the school, but she was eventually protected by free speech. But should this be the case?


Here is where the trilemma is presented: should social media pertaining to school fall under the category of free speech, should it be monitored based on school policies and regulations, or is there a neutral side?


People for Free Speech For Student’s Social Media


Free speech for students is very important, and this side believes that it should be implemented in all social media regardless of location. According to this perspective, students should have the freedom to say whatever they want on social media, even if it heavily criticizes the school that they are attending. There can be benefits from this, such as the public knowing certain facts about a school that can only come from students. If students can speak freely outside of school, especially on social media, they would be able to have a greater voice in the public. Even if a student says something disruptive to the school on social media, this side says that the student still should be allowed to criticize the school, as it promotes their freedom of speech. In conclusion, this perspective prioritizes the first amendment and the students rights over the possible disturbances it can cause the school, which is a reasonable side for this trilemma.


People for Supporting Schools to Limit Students on Social Media


It is important for schools to have a reasonable amount of control over their students to ensure that school is successful, and many people argue that this should be carried on to social media. For example, in the most recent case involving a cheerleader going to social media to voice her anger at her school, she used profanity in her post. According to Kevin Breuninger and Dan Mangan writing for CNBC News, she used the statement “F--- school f--- softball f--- cheer f--- everything”. This is a statement that definitely would not be within the rules at a public high school, and if she said this out loud in a classroom, it would have to be penalized. In this case, her right to free speech was supported by the Supreme Court because the statement was made out of school. Since social media is becoming even more influential than before, this side believes it is important to control what students are saying to maintain a safe and friendly environment at school.


The Possible Neutral Side


So, is there a neutral side in this trilemma? It is important for students to be able to voice their opinions regarding their school, yet to maintain an efficient learning environment schools supervision is also necessary. A neutral side in this trilemma would be allowing students to criticize schools on social media, but limiting freedom of speech when it comes to the use of profanity or other things of similar sort pertaining to school. This way students can grow and mature without unwanted disturbance while at the same time they can keep schools in check by voicing their opinions. In conclusion, this Trilemma is more important now than ever since so many students depend on social media for a voice. But where the line should be drawn is up for you to decide.