Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Facebook speech protected (sometimes)

Katherine Evans probably wasn't thinking about being part of a landmark case in online Free Speech when she created her Facebook rant against a teacher in 2007. She didn't keep it up long - apparently she was one of the few who didn't like the teacher - but the principal took exception anyway, took her out of her advanced placement classes and suspended her for three days.

In todays Miami Herald Hannah Sampson reports that a Magistrate Judge Barry Garber ruled that the Facebook page falls under the umbrella of Free Speech:
``Evans' speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech,'' Garber wrote. ``It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus, did not cause any disruption on-campus, and was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior.''

This is a very good ruling, in my opinion. The judge recognizes that the schools cannot, and should not, be able to dictate students life off campus. But at the same time it recognizes that there may be cases that Facebook or other online speech would not be protected.

As the internet continues to mature and governments start putting more effort into taming this beast cases like this one will define what we can and can't say online. And in the era of social media, what we can say online will be a defining factor in having a free society.