Freedom of Expression as "Liking"

Millenia T. - LLI Toledo

Should schools discipline students based off of what they "like" on social media? This seems to be an arising question in a generation with growing technology. Students all around are using social media to express themselves, or to share their life experiences with friends and family. However, when a student "likes" something that could be threatening, or does not abide by school rules, does it constitute speech? In my opinion, it does, unless it is offensive or an immediate threat to the school.

Imagine "liking" your friend’s picture of a gun, then getting suspended for it the next day. This is what happened with a middle school student in Trenton, OH. Zachary Bowlin "liked" a picture of a gun that was captioned, “ready.” The school believed this was a threat, but Bowlin said he just "liked" it when scrolling down Instagram that evening. So, does this necessarily mean that Bowlin was condoning violence?

It seems to me that the "like" given in this situation is protected by the first amendment, mostly because there was no comment given under the post, nor did Bowlin repost it. This suggests that this "like" was something done unconsciously, and was not thought about. Not only that, but whether or not the picture was posted by someone from the school, the poster should have been a question by the school. The school should have spent more time on who posted the gun, not who "liked" it. In addition, they should have asked if the person who posting was Bowlin’s friend or not. Knowing this information could have changed the situation completely.

However, in a situation like that of the California School district who suspended students based off of "liking" a racist post, I think the suspension was valid. The post consisted of black people hanging, and others had black people being compared to apes.

The fact that other students have found this post offensive, reported it, and even disapproved of it, shows that there is reason to be suspended for ‘liking’ it.

 Also, since the students who posted it attended the school, then the suspensions are valid.

Not only in situations like that above, I believe that suspensions are valid in cases like that of Ravick. In this case, a student sent emails with anti-Semitic statements, a picture of Hitler, and referenced the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” saying that the group would be coming to the school. Since this is both offensive and threatening, then the suspensions are valid.

Although many would say that a "like" should not get you in trouble, if it is brought to the attention of the school because of people’s feelings being hurt, or the school being threatened, then punishments should be given. Giving these punishments can also give a reality check to the students. It lets them know to be careful of what you "like" on social media because there is always someone watching.

Social media may be private, but it does have its consequences if not used correctly.


Sources Considered

  • Robbins, Ira P. "What is the Meaning of 'Like'?: The First Amendment Implications of Social-Media Expression." American University Washington College of Law Research Paper, vol. 7, issue 1, no. 2013-14, 2013, pp. 144-147.
  • Kelly, Heather. "U.S. Court Saying 'Liking' Something on Facebook is Free Speech." CNN. 19 Sept. 2013. 
  • "Students Suspended for 'Liking' Racist Instagram Posts Sue School." CBS Sacramento. CBS Interactive. 5 May 2017. 
  • Brown, Ken. "Middle School Student Suspended for 'Liking' Photo of Gun on Instagram." Fox 19 Now. WXIX. 5 May 2017. 
  • Knuth, Sara. "Cañon City High School to Discipline Students for 'Liking' Tweet." Education. The Daily Record. 13 Oct. 2016.
  • Walton, Xavier. "Over 20 NC Students Suspended for Liking Instagram Post." WCNC. 21 March 2017. 
  • Dinzeo, Maria. "Judge Wrestles with School's Handling of Racial Cyberbullying." Courthouse News Service. 27 July 2017.