Friday, December 05, 2008

Social Networks and Life-Changing Consequences

I always warn my students - "Be careful what you put or say on Facebook and MySpace." They usually laugh off my warnings, probably figuring they're too young for any serious consequences or I'm too old too understand how they socialize. Maybe it's a little of both - or maybe young students just don't care about the consequences. Anyway, this story about a student from Millersville University demonstrates that there can be real and sometimes life-changing consequences. Social Network Profile Costs Woman College Degree
Forget losing your job, apparently your MySpace or Facebook profile and photos can now cause you to lose your degree. In what may be one of the most frightening rulings regarding social networks and privacy to date, a federal judge has ruled against a former student of Millersville University of Pennsylvania who was denied her college degree because of an unseemly online photo and its accompanying caption found on her social network profile.
The Case of "Drunken Pirate," Stacy Snyder

The woman, Stacy Snyder, sued Millersville in 2007. Snyder was student-teaching at a high school, but had received poor evaluations regarding her professionalism in the classroom. Before her semester-long teaching assignment was up, she was barred from campus. However, it was not the negative reviews that caused her to be barred nor were they responsible for the loss of her degree. It was a MySpace photo.

In the photo, Synder was posed standing with a cocktail. The caption read "drunken pirate." It was accompanied by a note which made reference to her supervising teacher. That led to the school's decision to end her assignment, which in turn meant she now no longer qualified for her bachelor's degree in education.

Instead, the university reclassified some academic credits and gave Synder a degree in English. She appealed the decision and lost. She then decided to sue. The judge, Paul S. Diamond of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, dismissed her free-speech claims, saying that employees' free speech is only protected if it relates to matters of public concern. Synder's criticism of her supervisor did not.

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