Report: Most Americans think students should be free to post about school administrators on social media

The majority of Americans agree: students should be allowed to freely complain about their teachers and administrators on social media without fear of punishment.

That finding — 60 percent, to be exact — is part of the 2015 State of the First Amendment, a survey conducted annually by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center. The group surveyed 1,002 American adults by telephone in May about their opinions and knowledge of various First Amendment issues.

A plurality of 36 percent said that they strongly agree that students should be allowed to post on social media their opinions about school administration without the threat of punishment. Thirty-three percent disagreed, with 19 percent of those strongly disagreeing.

There was a significant age divide in opinions — 84 percent of young Americans aged 18 to 29 agreed that students should be able to freely post on social media, compared to 60 percent of those who are 30 years old or older.

Student speech on social media, and whether it should be given free speech protections, has been a heated issue. There have been recent cases of students who were expelled or suspended, or who have faced criminal charges, because of what they posted on social media. Recently, some federal appeals courts have given schools comparable authority over speech on social media as they have over speech on school premises under the Supreme Court’s 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case, which allows schools to punish speech that could reasonably be forecast to substantially disrupt school operations.

Free speech advocates have argued that these types of policies could create a chilling effect on student speech, and that students — particularly college students who are off-campus — still have First Amendment rights.

Other interesting findings from the report: only 19 percent of Americans think the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” compared to 38 percent in 2014 (which was attributed to public fear after the Boston Marathon bombings).

Thirty-three percent of Americans can’t name any of the five freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment, and only 10 percent can name the freedom of the press (freedom of speech is the most well-known, at 57 percent).

Sixty-nine percent of Americans think the news media should serve as a government watchdog, but only 24 percent think that the news media attempts to report the news without bias — the lowest percentage since the survey started asking this question in 2004.

These and other findings from the report can be found here.