Colleges and Universities, like the rest of the world, are dealing with the rapid rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook. In many cases a college student’s post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter may get them in hot water and result in university discipline and sometimes even suspension. A number of these cases have been popping up in the news recently. See here and here. We have even posted previously how a comment of Facebook can be criminal – when the President is involved.
However, there is great debate about whether a student’s social media rants are protected First Amendment speech which should not be used in a college disciplinary hearing – except when they contain a threat or disrupt the university, etc. Some courts have agreed (here) that use of social media to express opinions and criticism are classically protected speech much like newspapers and the press. Unfortunately, the vast majority of college disciplinary cases that end in suspension do not end up in court and therefore, the University administration and disciplinary system will likely have the last say about whether a tweet is appropriate and actionable as the basis of a disciplinary case.
College students using social media to criticize their university, administration or a professor beware of potential, unintended consequences – like suspension.