A teenager who used a couple of curse words on Facebook was suspended last week – even after she was the one beat up by a classmate.
The story comes as no surprise in the wake of schools cracking down on the online lives of both students and staff, but is every comment made online really a case of cyberbullying?
Take the story behind Megan Wisemore’s suspension. She used foul language while complaining about a fellow student. But her parents say she never actually used that student’s name.
The other kid figured it out anyway and jumped Wisemore in the hallway at school, sending the teen to the hospital for treatment to her injuries. Then the school blamed Wisemore for starting the incident, suspending her for three days (the other girl got a five-day suspension for getting physical). She’s been termed a cyberbully for bashing another student online.
Now Wisemore’s parents say the suspension was unjust. Their daughter’s language may not have been appropriate, they told NBC Action News, but it was no more harmful than your typical “teenage banter.”
Teens should be aware that anything they say online can be used against them in a public setting – whether it’s at a job interview or on a loan application. A good guide point: if you wouldn’t repeat your “status” or “comment” out loud to every single person on your friend list or every single person on the friend list of the person whose page you’re commenting on, you shouldn’t say it.
But sometimes people just like to let off a little steam. And if we refrain from using another person’s name and identifying characteristics, is that really a punishable offense? Even slander and libel standards call for evidence that the person crying defamation has actually been named or so aptly described that there is no question they are the person being criticized.
These sort of vague (and usually negative) musings have spawned a name. Urban Dictionary defines “vaguebooking” as “An intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.”
It refers not only to complaints about others but the typical “I’m done with this” or “can my day get any worse?” sort of comments that we make just to get it out (and sometimes because we’re drama queens).
Without the exact details of Wisemore’s comments, it’s hard to judge whether she went over the line. But if she didn’t use the students’ name and was truly just suspended for cursing, are we really fighting cyberbullying? Or are we just bullying kids out of their right to free speech?
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