Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday's Thoughts: Blogging and The First Amendment

I read something in the news today that really got me to thinking, plus getting under my skin. It seems that a high school teacher in Philadelphia was suspended for writing on her personal blog about how lazy, rude, obnoxious, and even dim-witted her students were. She wrote about them not listening in class, not wanting to learn, complaining about the grades they received, and so on.  In other words, describing to a T how so many teens are today, specifically those in her classes.  She did not name a single kid, but directed her remarks to them all. On her personal blog.

A couple of her students found the blog and reported it to administrators, who promptly suspended her. She retained an attorney, and is now getting her job back. The attorney apparently had to remind school officials that what the teacher says on her blog is protected by the First Amendment, particularly when she doesn't name any of the students.

The article brought to mind a couple of things, one being that this teacher is right on about a great many teens today. For the most part, they seem to all feel they are "entitled" to do or say anything they want to, and NOT do or say anything they don't want to. That includes being rude and obnoxious to adults, and not putting forth any effort to learn in school, yet feeling entitled to join the work force without the skills, knowledge and ability to do so. Having worked with young people for many years, I can see for myself the ways in which their attitudes and thinking have changed over the years, and I agree with everything this teacher said.

However, what concerns me the most is the fact that this teacher was suspended over what she said in her blog.  A blog on the Internet certainly does not have any expectation of privacy, so there was nothing wrong with her students finding and reading it. But since when can we NOT say what we think and have opinions about in our own blogs? That's where the rub is.

The First Amendment grants us the right to freedom of speech, which carries over into the freedom to write whatever we want to write. (Given, of course, that what is written is not some kind of libel against someone.) However, sometimes it is also brought up as a diversion from the truth, or as an attack upon someone we don't want to hear or something we think should not have been written. That's when I believe it is misused.

When you blog, how often do you really think about what you are writing? By this I mean, do you ever "ponder" if what you are blogging about might be conceived as a violation of the First Amendment? How could it be, when we are guaranteed the right to say anything under that very same amendment? So when this teacher blogged about her opinions of her students, how could she have been suspended by the school board? Obviously, they believed that she did not have the right to state, on her blog,  her opinions of the students she tried to teach on a daily basis.

I wonder what this means to us, as writers, would-be book authors, searching for agents and publishers? Should we think twice about what we post on our blogs? It goes without saying that no professional person, published or not, should ever carry on a contentious conversation on their blog about a run-in with an agent or publisher, or how terrible an editor is because she sent back a "bad" rejection letter, or any of the other "mishaps" we all have along our journey to find representation and/or a publisher.

The First Amendment protects our right to say anything we want to say. But how far does that take us in posting on our blogs? On the Internet, everything is out in the open for anyone to see; we certainly can't say that we expect our private thoughts...when we post remain private. I've read some blogs that are really my opinion, that is...with language right out of the garbage can, on any number of subjects, some equally disgusting,  and even people. The only option I have, since these same blogs are protected, is to never read them again, and of course, I don't.

Then there are the politically extremist blogs, full of hate and self-righteous indignation towards our present President, as well as those presidents in the past. Do they have the right to spew out their racially charged expletives, their lies, their vicious and venomous remarks? Apparently, they are also protected by the First Amendment, regardless of how decent, intelligent, and objective people feel about them.

Think about it. Do you ever post anything that could be taken as offensive to someone? Not necessarily someone in our literary profession, but by anyone? The First Amendment gives you that right, but with rights, comes responsibility. Many blogs today abuse the rights this amendment gives them, most of them intentionally. How far can a blog go, before that same amendment will no longer protect it? Or, in this country, where freedom of speech is the FIRST freedom we all espouse, will that amendment never recant that freedom, no matter how radically or extremist the speech, written or spoken, becomes?

Where do "rights" end, and responsibility begin?

Think about it. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.