Do’s and don’ts of social media

As the head of the Education practice group at McCarthy Lebit, I have strong background in litigation, specifically with higher education  law, special education law, Title IX actions and academic charges of dishonesty or misconduct.

As social media continues to grow and evolve, I see more and more legal cases involving students and their social media activity. The technology world is constantly changing and evolving, which makes it challenging for the legal system to keep up. This has many parents and students wondering if they should avoid it all together.

As a parent or a student, here’s what you need to know to stay out of trouble:

What types of social media activities can students get in trouble for?

bullyStudents can get in trouble with their school for what they post on social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. One of the most common social media activities that students get in trouble for is bullying. Cyberbullying has become an increasing problem in the school setting and schools are attempting to intervene. Cyberbullying mostly refers to vicious treatment and hateful words between students. Students can also get in trouble for insulting teachers, principals, or other school administrators. Students should also be wary of posting illegal activities on their social media profiles. This includes activities such as underage drinking and illegal drug use. There are also potential consequences for students posting evidence of cheating and plagiarizing. Posting threats of violence can also result in serious consequences for students.

My child has gotten in trouble; what do I do now?

cyberIf your child has gotten in trouble with the school for social media use, you should review with your child the school’s bullying and harassment or social media policies and consult an attorney to understand your child’s rights. There are many potential consequences for social media use by students and it is best to have an attorney who understands your child’s rights. If your child has gotten in trouble for social media use, contact an education lawyer to discuss.

What are the potential consequences?

Schools are required to have bullying and harassment policies. Violations of these policies or other inappropriate social media use can result in possible suspension or expulsion. Student athletes can also have consequences for inappropriate social media use including suspension or removal from the sports team. Threats of violence or other illegal activity could also warrant criminal prosecution.

Social media use has other implications beyond punishment by the school. Potential employers and college admissions officers often conduct social media searches to screen applicants. Students should not rely on privacy settings on social media sites. Even if the profile is set to private, a friend or follower can download information from your profile. It is always a good idea for students and their parents to review the information accessible on the student’s profile and delete anything might be of concern to a potential employer or college.

What rights do students have?

The First Amendment of the Constitution protects free speech, but not all speech is protected. A school may regulate on-campus student speech if it:

  • materially and substantially interferes with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or collides with the rights of others;
  • it is otherwise vulgar or lewd;
  • it encourages the use of illegal drugs; or,
  • it constitutes a true threat.

There are stronger free speech rights for students outside of school as opposed to in school. The free speech rights of students in the social media context is an area of the law that is currently developing, so it is best to consult an attorney specializing in education law to understand your child’s rights as a student.

The world of social media and the internet we live in today can be intimidating. If you are confused about your rights or have questions about the laws surrounding social media, don’t be afraid to consult with an attorney.

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Susan Stone

Susan C. Stone is the head of the Education practice group at McCarthy Lebit. She has a strong litigation background and spearheaded McCarthy Lebit’s Education practice to include higher education law, including Title IX actions addressing intimate partner violence and other forms of misconduct on campus; academic charges of dishonesty; and special education law, including due process complaints and the negotiation of IEPs and 504 plans. Ms. Stone takes a creative approach to helping her clients and advocate aggressively for successful resolution of their cases. She is sensitive to complex legal matters involving women and children and takes a personal interest in every case she defends.

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