An administrator at a private high school threatened students with suspension last month unless they erased all personal profiles and blogs from the Internet.
Rev. Kieran McHugh, principal of Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J., banned students from accessing social networking sites such as MySpace.com, citing student safety as his primary concern, according to the Daily Record, a newspaper serving the northern New Jersey community.
Web sites such as MySpace.com allow users to post biographical information and pictures in personal profiles. These profiles help users communicate with others who share similar interests.
McHugh said he believes Web sites such as MySpace.com are fertile breeding grounds for sexual predators to gather information about students, according to the Record .
“I don’t see this as censorship,” McHugh told the Record. “I believe we are teaching common civility, courtesy and respect.”
The decision angered students who felt the ban infringed on free speech and attempted to control their actions at home, according to the Record.\n
Free speech advocates have also questioned McHugh’s stance.
“It’s an incredible overreaction based on an unproven problem,” said Kevin Bankston, staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, to the Record . “If they’re concerned about safety, they could train students in what they should or shouldn’t put online. Kids shouldn’t be robbed of the primary communication tool of their generation.”
SPLC View: Despite his denials, the principal’s act is clearly censorship – and a drastic response to a problem that has never really been shown to exist – but it’s not clear that it would be illegal at a private school. (Such a policy would be unconstitutional at a public school.) As the SPLC has often pointed out, the First Amendment only restricts censorship by public officials and Rev. McHugh doesn’t qualify. Still, there have been a few court decisions where courts have limited the authority of even private school officials to punish their students for what they do outside of school, on their own time, but they are fairly rare.