In brief - Freedom of speech concerns halt student protection
On 24 August 2011 the Missouri State Teachers Association
contested a bill which, amongst other things, proposed to restrict
communication between teachers and students on social networking
sites such as Facebook.
Bill intended to protect children from online predators
The bill was entitled
The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. It established a
taskforce for the prevention of sexual abuse of children, as well
as a number of mechanisms for the reporting of such abuse.
Court upholds teachers' concerns regarding freedom of
This dispute illustrates the clear tension between the use of
social networking as an effective teaching tool and the fear of
online predators of children.
The Missouri State Teachers Association argued that the
restriction of communication on social networking sites was too
great an impingement on freedom of speech. The Circuit Court of
Cold County, Missouri agreed.
The Court found "the breadth of the prohibition"
staggering and noted that:
"It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of
communications between [teachers] and their students. ... It
clearly prohibits communication between family members and their
teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that
the statute would have a chilling effect on speech".
Balancing use of technology against the need to protect
Although in Australia there is not the same system of civil
rights in terms of freedom of speech, this case demonstrates the
uncertainty of regulators as to how to protect children from online
abuse, given that for the most part, communication on a social
networking site is an efficient and useful educational tool.
This is a tension that remains current worldwide in education.
It is such a new area of regulation and control and law that it is
useful to look to international decisions to assist in developing
policies in Australia.
Arguably the best approach is for schools to educate children on
sensible internet use and social networking and attempt to control
teacher/student communication on these sites with clear internal
In the years following the global financial crisis of 2008 many Australian investors lost their life savings as financial products failed and the Australian Stock Exchange shed over 3,000 points.
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