Internet & the Law

Social media can be fun and informative, but in some cases, it can get you into some trouble.  One 6th grader is learning about the perils of social media the hard way.

When Riley Smith wrote on her Facebook wall that she hated a teacher’s aide at her school “because she was mean to me”, she intended that only her Facebook friends would see the post. But, one friend, who apparently was not really a friend, reported the post to the school principal.

The principal gave Riley detention for being discourteous, and ordered her to apologize to the aide. That wasn’t the end of it; a few days later, Riley was suspended and missed a school field trip because of the post.

It didn’t end there. A few months later, a parent called the school to alert school administrators that her son and Riley Smith had been exchanging sexually explicit messages with each other on Facebook.

This time, Smith was called into the office where she was met by the principal, a counselor and a police officer. They demanded her password, and then she was made to read aloud the posts in question. She was then sent back to class.

The counselor called the girl’s mother to tell her what had transpired. Her mother says that her daughter was angry and embarrassed, and afraid that the school would hack into her other social media accounts.

Mom went to the American Civil Liberties Union who took on the case. They filed a complaint stating in part that Smith “was posting on Facebook after school, when she was off of school premises, using her own computer and Internet access. The complaint maintained that the school not only overreached its authority but also impinged on her right to free speech.

The school filed a motion to dismiss the case. Under the law, administrators can intervene if the post “creates a substantial disruption at school”.

Eventually, the school district agreed to settle with Smith for $70-thousand. It also revised the school’s policies to make it clear to school officials what they can and cannot do with regards to social media.

Do you think Riley Smith’s constitutional rights were violated?

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

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