The School Speech Police
By Joy Pullman
Facebook has unveiled a new initiative in Maryland that aims eventually to go nationwide. It has given educrats the power to follow kids into cyberspace to monitor and censor what they say on Facebook, following a new state “cyberbullying” law that makes schools responsible for what kids do online, even if off school property and outside school hours. The school speech police will have a special ability to flag for removal posts they find objectionable.
The law defines what might be objectionable as anything written using an electronic device that intends to “harass or inflict serious emotional distress” on a minor. That essentially describes kid brothers. But Facebook is letting the speech police go further than that and block posts that contain “questionable” language, whatever that means.
It means whatever the speech police take it to mean, which means Maryland’s youth are now subject to the caprices and preferences of unknown government agents. “[State Attorney General Douglas] Gansler believes he has negotiated power for school officials to go after speech that is not unlawful even under the decidedly speech-unfriendly definitions of the new Maryland law, but which they consider hurtful and lacking in ‘redeeming societal value,’” comments Cato’s Walter Olson.
Bullying has declined in recent years, according to federal data, and so has cyberbullying. But the public perception of it has increased, feeding an anti-freedom agenda and armies of publicly paid consultants. The Hill reports every school in Maryland now must appoint a person to work with Facebook to report and delete “offensive” posts.
As lawyer Scott Greenfield writes, “Facebook is happy to lock arms with Maryland’s teachers to silence speech. Welcome to the start of something big.”
(c) 2013. Used with permission.
Joy Pullmann is the editor of School Choice Weekly, a publication of the Heartland Institute.