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Lawsuit questions privacy of Facebook

Facebook posts may no longer be separate from school life.

“What’s on your mind?” Facebook prompted a 12-year-old girl in Minnesota in early 2011 before she posted her status. She typed her thoughts indicating she “hated” a hall monitor who was “mean” to her and clicked “update,” sharing her view with her friends.

Her Facebook friends were not the only ones to see her status, however. When the Minnewaska Area School District in Minnesota saw the post, they gave the girl a detention because they determined her status was an act of “bullying.”

According to an American Civil Liberties Union Act press release, this action was a violation of the student’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech; ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the school district and sheriff’s office.

Senior Nhu Vu said a school should have the power to discipline students for what they post online in extreme cases. However, she is not sure that a student saying she hates someone because he is mean is a strong enough reason.

“If [your post] threatens someone, then you should get suspended. If it makes [someone] want to go kill himself, then the school should do something about it,” Vu said. “If it impacts the student at school, then the school [is justified to] take action if they want to. But in everyday posts, they shouldn’t punish you.”

In the case of the Minnesota girl, she posted nor emailed any of the questionable remarks on school property. For sophomore Victoria Vizcarra, this is enough reason for the school to stay out of the situation.

“You should keep in your own personal life at home, like separation of school and state. If [you post] at school then maybe it’s different but if [someone posts] at home then it’s something your parents should take care of, not the school,” Vizcarra said. “If one student says, ‘I’m going to kill you at school tomorrow’ then the school should do something about it, but only if it involves the school.”

In addition to a violation of freedom of speech, the ACLU lawsuit also states the school district violated the student’s fourth amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. The lawsuit claims a school administrator forced the girl to hand over the passwords to her Facebook and email because they thought she had been chatting online with another student about sex. A local police deputy was present when the administrators went through her online records, and they did not inform the student’s parents of the search before it happened.

Another place a teen may be asked to hand over a Facebook password is during job interviews. MSNBC reports the Maryland Department of Corrections asked prospective prison guards in Maryland for their Facebook passwords to check for any signs of gang-affiliation.

While no employers can force teenagers to give them passwords, they can choose not to hire someone because he refuses to reveal his password.  Senior Nora Mavrakis thinks employers asking for passwords is a reasonable request she would comply with.

“You should lose your job if your private social life goes public and affects your professional life badly because of something that you said or did on the Internet,” Mavrakis said. “For example, if you are a teacher at Rock Bridge, you represent Rock Bridge. Anything that is considered bad that goes public would not only look bad on you but also on the school, and [the school] has a right to know what you’re posting on Facebook. I would give [a potential employer] my password.”

Other students believe this violates their fourth amendment rights and would refuse to give their password away. Junior Drew Floyd thinks it is a bad idea to give his password to anyone, regardless of their intentions.

“I feel an employer shouldn’t be able to ask you for your password to your Facebook because that’s a very private thing. No one besides you should have access to your Facebook,” Floyd said. “I wouldn’t give an employer my password because I feel like you shouldn’t give your password to anyone.”

By Kirsten Buchanan 

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