Organizations don’t like it when you complain about them. Especially when you do so in a public manner–online. The matter of First Amendment rights in the online realm has been a hot topic for debate for several years now, and things aren’t cooling off.
As Helen A.S. Popkin mentions, the debate may actually be heating up. High schoolers and college-age students have a tendency to say their school sucks. It’s what they’re supposed to do. In retrospect we eventually learn to cherish the days of absent responsibility and channel the anger that thrusts us into independent thought. This even appears to be particularly popular in the U.S. But for some reason the Internet has brought about a plethora of new issues with which to discuss one’s rights to the First Amendment.
Call it cyber-bullying or chalk it up to adolescent defamation. The Internet has an odd impermanence about its ability to archive and retrieve data due to its sheer size, but putting your hatred for a school or a faculty member out into the world [wide web] can easily come back to haunt you.
We can talk about the First Amendment until we run out of oxygen to breath, but I’d rather leave that up to the courts. The fact remains that saying bad things about people and organizations can hurt their feelings and damage their pride. You can expect them to retaliate. In many cases, they retaliate with disciplinary actions, long-standing negative affects on their academic records, and lawsuits.
How ironic that high school and college students get to learn, first hand, about the ultimate case of payback when it comes to the expression of their First Amendment rights. Seeing the growing pains of self-expression play out on the Internet merely reminds me of the social strains brought about by new technology, its assimilation, and its eventual acceptance. This is all particularly poignant as it deals with new forms of communication, complete with widespread access to these new forms of communication, and the cultural implications that lie therein.
In the end, however, I think it’s important to remember that there’s nothing really new under the sun. Everything we’re dealing with has a core issue that has little to do with the technology itself but of human’s ability to coexist within a healthy social structure. There’s no reason for parents, faculty, attorneys or judges to scratch their heads at teenage social networking nonsense. Even in its early years, my mother recognized the fact that the Internet was yet another way for her daughter to communicate with the world, and that included the world’s individuals. Therefore, the same principles apply, regardless of one’s offline or online status.
It will still be a challenge, but any attempt to get this message through to teens and young adults will be gratuitous in the end.