Writing for EFF, Creeley and Perrino Examine Students’ Online Speech Rights

July 10, 2013

In a guest post for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), FIRE’s Will Creeley and Nico Perrino discuss the online speech rights belonging to high school and college students as well as the ways in which their institutions frequently violate those rights. Despite the First Amendment’s full application in the realm of Internet expression and social media (an issue we’ve written about many times before), Will and Nico point to a number of examples FIRE has seen of unconstitutional censorship and punishment of online speech. Will and Nico write: [L]ast October, Montclair State University in New Jersey issued a no-contact order to graduate student Joseph Aziz in response to unflattering comments about another student he posted to a YouTube video that September. The no-contact order included a gag prohibiting him from posting “any social media regarding” the other student. After Aziz later posted comments about the matter to a private Facebook group, he was charged with harassment and disruptive conduct and suspended for the spring semester. Happily, the sanctions were rescinded after our organization, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), wrote to the university pointing out that the gag order and punishment violated Aziz’s First Amendment rights. Highlighting this and other recent cases, they conclude: It’s important for students, administrators, and courts alike to recognize that technological advances need not come at the expense of expressive rights. Just because student speech is newly visible and accessible when posted online doesn’t mean that administrators have increased power to police and punish it. You can read the rest of their post over on EFF’s website. Our thanks to EFF for allowing FIRE this platform to discuss this important issue!