FIRE has been reporting the continued crackdown on students’ expression on Internet sites like MySpace and Facebook. While these sites have given students a new forum to express themselves and communicate with friends, they have also opened a new medium for administrative overview of students’ personal opinions and activities.
When the message boards contain advertisements for wild parties or descriptions of alcoholic exploits, then some might view administrative interference as warranted. Finding such incriminating information, however, involves administrators’ trolling students’ profiles for anything that looks illegal, dangerous, or otherwise unsavory. And there’s the rub.
At North Carolina State (NC State), for example, a town hall meeting was held to “discuss recent alcohol violations found on http://thefacebook.com.” At that meeting, as a blogger reports, discussion turned away from drinking toward the objectionable language that students use on the Web. It came out that “[o]ne user posted that the resident adviser should be crucified and burned at the stake,” and the Office of Student Conduct representative at the meeting “said this is going under investigation, and he intends to find the student who posted the threats.” Did this administrator really think that a student was planning on crucifying and burning an RA at the stake? These days, hyperbolic language on the Internet is cause for investigation.
As Greg has posted, administrative reaction gets even more excessive when students’ online expression is directed toward the administration, and in those cases the only danger involved is an administrator’s bruised ego. At Wilson College, students became the target of an investigation for associating with a fictitious and obviously satirical profile on MySpace that had been created for Selena Robinson, director of Wilson’s Women with Children program. The students all deny having created the profile, and say they learned about it when they each received a request to become friends with it. Robinson discovered the profile, a hearing was held, and the students have been found guilty of violating Wilson’s honor code value of “respect,” which carries a loss of privileges. The profile has since been removed, but the investigation into charges of harassment, slander, and identity theft are “continuing and not yet completed.” Wilson is still set on finding out who created the profile, and has asked each student to sign a waiver to surrender their privacy rights on MySpace. After FIRE wrote to Wilson, the school’s counsel told FIRE that “we have initiated an action to obtain relevant facts from MySpace.com.”
It looks like the future of campus discipline will involve administrators patrolling the Internet to crack down on students who drink alcohol, use foul language, and make fun of teachers. I see many more cases to come.
Schools: North Dakota State University