Creating Responsible Netizens

A Recent Case Study of Teen Tweeting December 3, 2011

Filed under: jessica,Uncategorized — jessica @ 6:33 am

I remember the innocent days when “tweet” brought to mind images of chirping birds. Now “tweet” paints a picture of light blue logo and 140 character remarks.

With huge popularity of social networking amongst young people, it is only natural that microbloggers also encompass a young demographic. However, with all this it is important for users to remain cognizant of any and all repercussions for online speech.

Case in point: In mid-November 2011, a teenage girl posted a less-than-flattering tweet about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. She was in attendance at a Youth in Government program, and during the governor’s presentation, she posted (as a joke) “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Keep in mind that Emma Sullivan (the girl in question) had only 65 Twitter followers at this time and Governor Brownback is currently controversially supporting a veto for the state’s art commission budget.

As swiftly as Sullivan’s fingers typed in her tweet, Emma’s school administrators received upset calls from the governor’s office. Shawnee Mission East administrators reprimanded Emma and demanded that she write an apology to Gov. Brownback for her offensive comment. In essence, they were saying that her post was highly disrespectful and arguably humiliating for the school and Youth in Government program she was representing.

But can she legally be forced to write an apology as punishment?

Sullivan’s family clearly thinks not; they have taken this story to the media, creating a free speech martyr out of their daughter. On November 27, 2011, Emma Sullivan announced that she would, in fact, not be apologizing at all.

You would expect a First Amendment free speech/school speech/online speech battle of epic proportions to erupt, right?

Interestingly enough, Gov. Brownback’s office soon issued an apology for this whole incident, citing it as an “overreaction.” Indeed, that maneuver was a very diplomatic way to put this in the past before it actually became national headlines; however, in terms of clarifying cyberlaw, this illustrates a thoroughly wasted opportunity.

In our culture where puerile rudeness can be celebrated and anyone can change the world in 140 characters or less, it is important to not lose sight of the pillars of free speech. Excessive regulation and thin skin only stifles debate. Clearly articulated online dialogue can and will serve to foster a more multi-faceted context to communicate. (please note, I am by no means saying that Emma Sullivan was “clear” or “articulate”)

So, let’s be mindful of what we say, but not let extreme civility impede our message from spreading. #gettingoffmysoapbox