Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Republicans Overreach With "Facebook Law"

Fermin Leal wrote the following for The Orange County Register:
A new law in Missouri aimed at protecting children from sexual predators prevents teachers from "friending" students or sending them private messages on Facebook.

The state's governor recently signed the controversial law that prohibits teachers from directly contacting students through the popular social network.

According to news reports, Missouri is the first state in the country to place such strict limits on Facebook communication between teachers and students. There are no current proposals in California for similar legislation, state officials said Tuesday.

Missouri's "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" does allow some public communication between students and teachers on Facebook. Teachers can create public Facebook pages where students can discuss class assignments and lessons. Teachers can also post messages on students' public walls or message boards that others on the social network can see. The law goes into effect Aug. 28.
I see a couple problems with this law. One problem being privacy - any communication a teacher may have with a student must now be visibility to all eliminating any expectations of confidentiality.

Another problem I see with this is that this law is essentially restricting free speech by determining when, where, and how a teacher may communicate. I would consider this law to be unconstitutional.  The 1st Amendment specifically states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech."  States' rights proponents may argue that congress didn't make these laws - Missouri did - but since our form of government is a federal one, that argument is worth nothing.  Not only does this law "abridge" the free speech of teachers, it also infringes on the rights of students.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) extended free speech rights to students in school. While the Supreme Court has amended that decision over the last forty years, it had only extended censorship of student speech at schoool-sponsored events and only if students promote illegal activities. Since Facebook would no be classified as a school-sponsored event, I can hardly see any restriction on student-teacher communications upheld by the courts - I would hazard a guess that even conservative judges would look to their pocket Constitution on this one and rule in favor of the teachers.

Finally, I think there is an ulterior motive for this law. Conservatives have been upping their attacks against teachers, whether blaming them for state fiscal problems or claiming they are indoctrinating children with liberal ideologies. This law essentially works to restrict contact between the student and the teacher outside of the classroom. Conservatives have worked hard to try and control the classroom material (see Texas Board of Education) and now they are trying to expand that control and prevent any additional communication outside the classroom so that their narrative is the dominant one.

Sadly, there is no liberal agenda in the schools.  Complaints from the right are blown out of proportion and using sympathetic media (exploiting the Spiral of Silence), conservatives push their agenda making them as bad as those they claim do the same.  In the end, students are the one to get hurt.  Accessibility to their instructors will decrease as teachers increasingly fear penalization for breaking the law.  Failure rates will most likely increase creating an unprepared generation, but not to worry because this will only create more fuel for the right's assault on education - they can insist the current system (the one they are whittling away) is a disaster that needs to be scrapped.


  1. My personal opinion would be that this matter should be left up to the teachers to decide on an individual basis. The government has no place determining appropriate communications - any inappropriate communication should be dealt with accordingly but those situations are the outlyer and should not determine policy.

  2. Conversely, this could be a protection for both teacher and student by keeping the FB contact public. Any contact between an adult and a minor outside the classroom is almost asking for trouble in this day and age.

    I haven't been in school in many, many years, but I would never have presumed to intrude upon a teacher's privacy outside school hours. Even teacher-parent meetings are scheduled during school hours for the most part; at least, as a working mother, that was my experience.

  3. I understand the protections this law may offer but I believe this law just shouldn't exist. We can write so many laws to protect for so many different situations. You have to ask yourself when something is too much...


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