The Weight of Words: How Social Media has Changed the Way We Interact

September 24, 2018 by No Comments

By: Dylan Bartley


             If you go online today, you’re almost certain to run into the discussions about the freedom of speech and expression. Social media, in recent years, has completely reconstructed how we think during a conversation. Faceless behind an avatar, repercussions seem impossible. Especially now, as more and more people, young and old, have social media platforms right at their fingertips and can say whatever they please, the idea that words carry weight has begun to go down the drain.

In November of 2017, a high school suspended five students after they engaged in hateful and racist speech online. Many people were concerned that this would bring about a debate as to whether it was appropriate for a school board to use comments made in private against the student. Ultimately the case was taken to court, and the judge ruled in favor of the high school’s decision.

“The judge rejected arguments that the Albany Unified School District violated the students’ free speech rights because the offensive posts were on a private account and made off campus.” says the LA Times, who covered the incident. According to the judge who made the ruling, James Donato, “These cases establish that students have the right to be free of online posts that denigrate their race, ethnicity or physical appearance, or threaten violence. They have an equivalent right to enjoy an education in a civil, secure and safe school environment.”

Makes sense, no? Kids should have the right to feel safe online. However, this caused a lot of debate on whether the First Amendment rights of the students were taken away when the school board used what they had said against them. In the digital age, as kids grow up in a world accustomed to posting everything online, the idea of watching what you say has started to become less and less important. The reprimands that the kids faced for their actions may have acted as a wake-up call of sorts, and brought it to people’s attention that what they say still matters. By no means does using what someone says against them in a court of law prohibit their freedom of speech- they have a right to say whatever they please in online spaces. But if it harmfully impacts the lives of others, you can’t expect to get off scot-free.  

Social media has broken boundaries of communication in revolutionary ways, but it does come with lessons to be learned. Remember to be kind to others as you traverse the world wide web, or it may just come back to bite you.