Is the Internet Promoting or Limiting Our Freedom of Speech?
We have seen a growing digital age continue to evolve. Everything we do is online: our class work, our homework, our friends, our information, our lives. We have grown so accustomed to our technology that it’s easier for us to post a blog, or read a web page than it is for us to write an essay or read a book. It is true when they say “Americans are engaged in what is a historic shift-at least, by virtue of being largely electronic.” ( Ken Paulson
www.firstamendmentcenter.org October 2013) However with this growing, revolutionizing technology comes the growth of our responsibilities and the revolutionizing of human concepts.
Not only have computers and social media sites become a gateway of expression, but they have also become a new form of harassment, bullying, humiliation, and slander. Nothing online is private and the moment you post anything online, it can be seen from all over the world. Oftentimes, young students use the internet as a way to freely and openly express their ideas and thoughts, but they must also be mindful of the impact their messages can have in other situations such as school. Through extensive research, I have found many sources that will help make us aware that although the internet is an outlet for free speech, it has also become a limitation on our freedom.
The question that often comes up in these situations is “whether and under what circumstances public schools may punish internet communication by students outside of school?”(Stephen Wermiel January 2012) This is a question that has long been debated as the growing age of technology has expanded and Supreme Court judges have disputed it throughout the past few decades. In the case of Kowalski v Berkley County School, the court stated that “Kowalski indeed pushed her computer keys at home, but she was well aware that the electronic response would be... published beyond her home and could reasonably be expected to reach the school or impact the school environment.”(Judge Niemeyer 2011) In the case of Kowalski v Berkeley County School, the Supreme Court of Florida held that school officials were allowed to punish students for off-campus speech when that off-campus speech became a "material or substantial disruption" on school grounds. Of course, school officials want students to be able to openly and freely express themselves, but the moment that free speech creates a disruption on school grounds, then school officials have the authority to abridge the rights of the students in order to promote a safe school environment.
In our growing age, today one major concern that has recently been arising is the idea of cyber bullying where students use the internet to publicly humiliate, harass and ridicule their fellow classmates. It has become such a trivial topic because not only have an increasing number of students been bullied online, but many of them have taken extreme actions of ending their lives because of it. Oftentimes, we address the issue of who is responsible for stopping these students from creating such speech? When students are in school, the school administrators and officials must act as the safeguards for students. School officials are not only supposed to promote the educational process, but also promote a safe environment for the students entrusted in their care. It is true that although “students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gates” (Ken Paulson November 2012), it is the school's responsibility to punish a student’s freedom of speech when it creates an in-school disruption.
Video Credits: (Lee Hall, Internet Freedom Summit Explainer Video; February 2013)