Over the past year or so, students have become increasingly savvy about the downside of Facebook and MySpace. In talking with my students and in reading their stories for journalism classes, it’s clear that they know if they post photos of themselves drunk and/or in compromising positions, potential employers will somehow find out about it.
What they may not know is that college and university officials themselves may be cruising around Facebook — and going after students who’ve posted content they don’t like. In the current Phoenix, Greg Lukianoff and Will Creeley report that students have been singled out and punished for posting content that is obnoxious and racially insensitive, but that nevertheless is protected by the First Amendment. They write:
Contrary to popular misconceptions, the speech codes, censorship, and double standards of the culture-wars heyday of the ’80s and ’90s are alive and kicking, and they are now colliding with the latest explosion of communication technology. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are becoming the largest battleground yet for student free speech. Whatever campus administrators’ intentions (and they are often mixed), students need to know that online jokes, photos, and comments can get them in hot water, no matter how effusively their schools claim to respect free speech. The long arm of campus officialdom is reaching far beyond the bounds of its buildings and grounds and into the shadowy realm of cyberspace.
Lukianoff is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Creeley is a top official with FIRE.