With the skyrocketing popularity of social media use, cyber bullying has become an increasingly serious problem for young people. However, it won’t be up to school officials to regulate their off-campus conduct.
The United States Supreme Court denied cert to three free speech cases involving some of the first challenges to the free speech rights of students on the Internet. The cases involved student comments made about administrators or peers on social media websites.
Two of those cases were dealt with in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, with the court en banc upholding the right of two students to create fake MySpace profiles poking fun at their principals. In both instances, the students did not use school time or resources to create the fake profiles.
In the case of Layshock v. Hermitage, the Third Circuit wrote: "It would be an unseemly and dangerous precedent to allow the state, in the guise of school authorities, to reach into a child's home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school-sponsored activities."
However, its sister circuit, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a school punishment against a West Virginia high school student for creating and inviting classmates to a questionable MySpace group, "Students Against Sluts Herpes".
With its denial of review, the Supreme Court effectively leaves the debate over online student speech rights unresolved, according to the Student Press Law Center.
"Given the uniquely unsympathetic facts of these cases, I think you have to count this as a victory for student rights," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. "Sometimes it's a win just to live to fight another day."
- 3rd Circuit Issues Differing MySpace Student Speech Opinions (FindLaw's Decided)
- Free Speech Lawsuits Involving Public Schools (FindLaw)
- Phoebe Prince, Alexis Polkington: When is e-Bullying a Crime? (The New York Criminal Law Blog)