By Michael J. Kasdan*

A pdf version of this article may be downloaded here.

“IMPORTANT!!  Tomorrow, Facebook will change its privacy settings to allow Mark Zuckerberg to come into your house while you sleep and eat your brains with a sharpened spoon.  To stop this from happening go to Account > Home Invasion Settings > Cannibalism > Brains, and uncheck the “Tasty” box.  Please copy and repost.”

– Satirical Status Post from Friend’s Facebook Status on February 15, 2011.

Introduction

Since launching its now ubiquitous social networking website out of the Harvard dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg in early 2004, Facebook has rapidly become one of the most dominant websites on the planet.  And “rapid” doesn’t quite do it justice.  It has been estimated that over 40% of the U.S. population has a Facebook account.[FN1] Facebook now boasts over 600 million active user accounts [FN2] and was recently estimated to be adding user accounts at the unbelievable clip of well over half a million new users per day.[FN3]

By Michael J. Kasdan*

A pdf version of this article may be downloaded here.

Introduction

The move toward online communication has the potential to throw off the historically careful balance that has been struck regarding First Amendment issues in the realm of “student speech.”  In a seminal trilogy of cases, the Supreme Court balanced the free speech rights of students with school districts’ ability – and even responsibility – to regulate student speech that disrupts the learning environment.  Before the proliferation of instant messaging, SMS texts, and social networking sites, the Court allowed schools to regulate on-campus speech in limited circumstances (i.e., when the speech disrupts the learning environment) but did not extend the school’s authority to regulate speech that occurs off-campus (i.e., speech subject to traditional First Amendment protection).  Electronic communication blurs the boundary between on- and off-campus speech.  While a student may post a Facebook message from the seeming privacy of his or her own home, that message is widely accessible and could have a potentially disruptive effect on campus.