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Robert Winner


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Should students be punished by their schools for comments made on social medial from their homes.

In the news are students being expelled for comments made from home regarding their schools, administrators, or teachers. Should this be a matter for courts action ... no action ... or is the school discipline justified.

Remember the comments are not made on school equipment or while the student is under school control / school hours / school trips / etc ...


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    May 7 2012: I just had a thought. I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris Anderson a couple of weeks ago. He's every bit as warm and friendly as you'd expect from seeing him on this site, from his comments and from the direction he's taken TED. Let's imagine that I'm some sort of malicious idiot and I badmouth him on Facebook and accuse him of actions and attitudes he's never been guilty of. Of course he could sue me, but I think he'd also be well within his rights, responsibilities and expected behaviour to sanction me in the context of my activities with TED- boot me out of my TED membership, ban me from conferences, etc. As a member of this site, and a TEDx organiser, I have some responsibility towards TED and TED has some right to sanctions if I were to bring it into disrepute. At least that's my view. David- what do you think on this?
    • May 7 2012: So Edmond you are saying that if you and Chris get into a personal argument and the you subsequently go to Facebook and express your displeasure immaturely about him and TED; Chris not only has the right but should ban you from TED.com? So do you promote the idea that a person who runs a community has the right to shun any person they deem as not being fit to exist in that community? That would certainly inhibit anyone from speaking out against Chris or TED.com; but it certainly doesn't promote open discourse. Does Chris own TED.com? Is TED.com considered a "public" site? I would expect that this media (web) at some point will have to mature and be considered as much of a right as the right to put something into print (book) and publish. Since freedom of speech is fundamentally a right to express oneself, then right to expression has to be universally extended to all people. In other words if you have a website that is open to public comment then my comments are protected by the First amendment. If your website is not open to public comment then you can delete what you want; but you shouldn't be able to have it both ways. Letting censorship exist for any reason (private or government); is a slippery slope.
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        May 7 2012: No, not at all. I didn't mean I get into an argument with Chris. I meant I post something entirely defamatory and for the purpose of this conversation entirely malicious and wrong, without any possibility of confusion.
        I believe Chris does indeed own this, but I'm not sure. For the sake of argument let's say he does.

        Again, it's not censorship- I'm not saying anything about rights to delete comments. I'm talking about Chris's right to take punitive action within his organisation if someone who is associated with it defames it on a third party publication. Surely the courts are not the only place an ethical and responsible organisation can respond to an action by an individual?
        • May 7 2012: So the question is if you go to another website and make defamatory comments, does he have the right to take punitive actions on this website. I would say no. I think Facebook has got this one right, example is their timeline UI. People have posted most hateful things about Facebook's decision to force this on people. People spoke out some quite horribly against it; Facebook did not respond by tearing down these people's posts or banning them. They responded like a good net-izen and made it a choice of whether to use the new UI or not. Now I understand the example is not an individual, but the only difference is pride. By banning someone from your website because they said something heinous on another website is a 5 year old taking their ball and going home! Not to mention it gives what they said creedence. Lets remember "sticks and stones break bones, but words can never hurt me" Unless of course you are an oppressive govt regime. :-)
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        May 7 2012: I think perhaps the site's limit on number of replies is a good thing here- it has the feel of a long and tiresome argument. My final comments are these- sticks and stones may break my bones, but internet defamation can REALLY hurt me (more so a vulnerable child)- just because it's a quote doesn't make it true.
        Your example about Facebook is clearly inappropriate since Facebook's UI is a perfectly legitimate subject for discussion amongst its users, all of whom Facebook has a good financial reason to want to keep. This is not about good netizenship. It's about good citizenship, which is what schools are trying to educate students in.
        I actually agree with you on the example of TED, because it's my poor analogy that brought him into the argument. Chris is unlikely to actually ban such a user, because it's not his job to educate him. Schools do have a responsibility to educate. It would be irresponsible for a school not to respond.
        • May 9 2012: Edmond, I have enjoyed discussing this with you. My last point on this will be here. Schools have the right to administer school. Facebook has the right to administer facebook, The authorities have the right to enforce the law. Parents should raise their children. We should keep it that way it works.
          Words CANNOT hurt you, unless you give the words power over you. We should be teaching our vulnerable children that.
          Words and ideas are only dangerous when they become action. Discussion is good!
    • May 7 2012: Edmond, I think I understand what you're trying to say: Libel and Slander should not only be considered crimes under Law but be punishable by private action. That's kind of fair, and it already happens (though not as fairly as we'd like, otherwise this conversation would be redundant). I think we should highlight some differences in what is acceptable or unacceptable. Consider:

      A high school student says: "Mr. Faccineli is such a jerk, he gives us homework every day. I bet he makes his wife do homework before he gives her his 'gold star'!"


      "Mr. Faccineli is such a jerk, he gives us homework every day and then tries to feel me and a couple of other students up in the boys locker room".

      Both statements are objectively false, one is conjecture, the other is accusation. I don't think the kid should be punished for the former (though likely, Mr. Faccineli will give everyone an impromptu pop quiz on Monday to spite him); he should be punished for the latter, in appropriate ways. Should that include a temporary ban from Facebook, it's all fine and good.

      Consider: A cashier posts: "God, my McDonald's shift is so boring and my manager is a real tool." versus "God, my McDonald's shift is so boring and my manager makes us kidnap cats and put it in the meat".

      Both statements are objectively false. The former is opinion (which will result in the cashier getting passed over for that secret promotion the manager was going to announce on monday) and the latter is a punishable lie. The cashier should be legitimately punished for the latter, not the former. That's the difference as I see it.
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        May 7 2012: Yes, you're right in that the statements are objectively false, and in both cases you have correctly identified situations where I would agree action absolutely ought to be taken between the parties without resort to the courts. The difference is that McDonald's is not charged either by the state or by the parents to educate the employee, whereas the school certainly is. As I see it, those who argue against punishment by the school do so because the act was committed outside school time and not on school equipment. But the actual damage is done when the comment is read, just as surely as a punch only hurts when it lands. If the punch lands in school, the school has a duty to respond. So if one student defames another, even if the victim reads it at home, if the victim comes to school in an unfit state to study, the school is right to be involved. If on the other hand the two students get into an argument that doesn't spill over into school, then it's probably none of the school's business. Similarly, if a reasonable person feels that Mr Faccineli is going to be affected while he teaches because the student has posted something, again the school has a legitimate right to be involved.
        Perhaps my residence in the UK colours my judgement on this. I don't see the freedom of expression argument at all- I don't see a slippery slope- none of this affects the student's right to post. If a school sought to prevent students from posting on social networking sites from home, BEFORE they had done anything wrong, that would be censorship and that would be wrong of the school. All of us have a responsibility to think before we publish, now in the internet age more than ever.

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