Monday, May 18, 2009

FEATURED QUESTION: The First Amendment and the Internet

Technology brings both blessings and curses. According to this recent article in the Washington Post, a particular web site, which will go unnamed in this posting, is quite active in verbally attacking students in Maryland's Montgomery County high schools:
Before the digital age, there was simply nasty writing on the restroom wall. Now, in the say-it-all era of the Internet, the darker side of teenage expression has found a new place to fester.

It is a hive of anonymous slander where girls are listed by name as promiscuous and teachers are accused of being fat and in some instances of having sex with students. There are racial rants. Barbs about being gay....
At least one potentially violent incident has also been associated with the web site:
[In early May], a teenager posted a rambling threat to kill students and staff members at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, which led to the arrest of a 17-year-old who had recently moved to Tennessee.
In conflict are freedom of expression and curtailing what can be posted on the site:
[T]ension between free expression and mean-spirited assault appears to have hit a new high, especially in Montgomery County schools, which account for a majority of the Web site's postings. The site, which went up in November, is run by a 23-year-old administrator in Maryland and has already expanded into Virginia, the District and other states.

Parents have complained, and police have tried to rein in the site, which has been through several short-term shutdowns, but the material posted is not illegal, they say.

Unlike the world of graffiti in restroom stalls, the site's digital insults and accusations are more lasting, profuse and widely read, with the site claiming more than 3 million page views a day since the Whitman incident. Some students shrug off the crude remarks. But to others -- and their parents -- they can be alarming, humiliating or painful.

"This site takes all the mean-spirited and negative elements of Facebook and other sites that have a lot of positive aspects and puts them in one place," said Kathy Cowan of the National Association of School Psychologists, who has watched the site with concern. "It's like the sludge of Internet activity. There is nothing redeeming."

Alfredo Castillo, the site's administrator, said that he sees it as an important outlet for teenagers and that he and a fellow creator had asked, "Would it make sense, and is it right, is it wrong, morally?" They concluded that there was a need because "there is no avenue for people to express their feelings, their emotions and their secrets . . . anonymously."

As for teenagers hurt by malicious lies, he said: "We understand that a lot of it might be false. . . . We have to allow people who know these individuals to judge what is right [and] what is not."


The Web site...was shut down voluntarily just before Christmas because a topless photo of a minor was posted. It was shut down again in March after parents troubled by posted allegations questioned the legality of the site. Montgomery Police Detective John Reinikka investigated for illegal activity and found none.
Read the entire article HERE.

Should censorship of the Internet be applied to web sites such as the one described above? If so, by whom?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 5/18/2009 07:00:00 AM