Schools must hold students accountable for hateful online speech

When students are criticized and bullied because of their identities, it should not matter what platform was used to make these comments. Universities must adapt to the growing social media culture and treat anything said online the same as if it were said in person. Whether said to another person’s face, behind their back or online, community members must be held accountable for their actions.

A few major court cases across various states have dealt with students using social media and the internet to spread hateful messages. The Supreme Court, however, has declined to hear cases regarding schools’ right to punish students over what is said via social media.

As social media continues to permeate everyday life, the Supreme Court, as well as individual schools and universities, must be willing to confront this issue and recognize that, without limits in place, students have the ability to use social media as an outlet for belittling their peers.

To date, cases involving hateful speech on social media have come from public high schools. Cases involving private universities such as Tulane would be new territory for the judicial system.

Obviously, it is impossible to keep track of all offensive, homophobic and racist commentary happening online. That being said, if concerned students comes forward with the evidence of such an occurrence, they should be taken seriously and treated the same as any other victims of bullying or discrimination.

Numerous private high schools have policies in place that allow them to discipline students if they share anything threatening or offensive over social media. The idea behind these policies is that, because students actively make a choice to go to a given school, they also choose to accept and follow the rules in place, even if these policies might limit their ability to speak freely over the media.

All Tulane students chose to come here for one reason or another, and they are free to leave if they are unhappy with any policies regarding social media use. Tulane should also feel comfortable adopting policies similar to these other private institutions if it truly values the importance of protecting its students from hate, both off and online.

Some may argue that limiting what students can say on social media is a breach of the First Amendment. A line needs to be drawn, however, that separates free speech from the ability to disparage one’s peers without repercussions.

Whether or not it is legally-decided that schools have a right to punish their students over such actions, a discussion needs to take place. Students’ safety and security should be the university’s top priority, and anything threatening it, even if done over social media, should be taken seriously.

This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Robin is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]

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