No More Teachers' Dirty Looks Pageviews


The Boston Phoenix has a big, broad wrap-up of the censorship and smackdowns growing out of the popularity of Facebook on college campuses.

The first few Facebook cases began trickling in to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where both authors of this article work) sometime in late 2005. This first wave typically involved students documenting themselves engaged in illegal behavior, like underage drinking or using illegal drugs. Maybe this shouldn't be surprising; after all, analysts estimate that Facebook is the Internet's largest host of user-submitted photos, with over 2.3 million being uploaded daily. That tops even dedicated photography sites like It was perhaps inevitable that students would eventually upload pictures of themselves or others drinking or otherwise partying — and just as inevitable that administrators would eventually see these incriminating snapshots and take action.

The next wave of Facebook cases concerned censorship in its rawest form, updated for the Internet age. Typically these cases involved administrators, faculty, or student officials being criticized or satirized online. Instead of responding with more speech, the "victimized" party often moved for censorship, thus echoing the centuries-old lament of censors the world over: I believe in free speech and all, but I will not be mocked!

For example, at Syracuse University, students who created a Facebook group to make fun of a teaching assistant were expelled from the class and placed on "disciplinary reprimand." And two students at Cowley College in Kansas were banned from participating in theater-department activities after they complained about the theater department on a MySpace blog. Meanwhile, a student at University of Central Florida (UCF) was brought up on "personal abuse" harassment charges for calling a candidate for a student-government office a "Jerk and a Fool" on his Facebook account.

There's a large focus on how the devolving rights of students play into this, an issue I tackled way back in 2004.