Date of Award
Political Science and Spanish
This Thesis evaluates the tension between the constitutional free speech rights of students and the rights of schools to maintain a controlled environment that is conducive to learning. The inception of the internet and social media has permanently altered the way that students communicate, impacting student free speech jurisprudence. The significance of evaluating student free speech rights lies in the protection of American schools as “nurseries of democracy”. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court held that students possess First Amendment rights within the schoolhouse, however the Court has failed to provide clear guidance as to whether or not the Tinker doctrine applies to off-campus student speech, especially speech occurring through social media. This lack of guidance has proved to be problematic for district and federal appellate courts that inconsistently apply varying applications of the Tinker doctrine to off-campus student speech. In 2021, the Supreme Court addressed this issue by defending the constitutional rights of Brandi Levy in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (2021) and thereby provided one example of protected off-campus student speech in the form of social media.
The purpose of this research is two-fold. First, this Thesis will reflect that social media should be considered a constitutionally protected form of off-campus student speech with one exception. This exception includes circumstances in which the speech does not withstand the two-pronged approach of the Third Circuit Court: reasonable foreseeability and intent of the speaker. Furthermore, the following research will reflect that it is imperative for all lower courts to adopt the Third Circuit Court approach to establish uniformity until the United States Supreme Court grants certiorari to a subsequent case that clearly defines the boundaries of on and off campus student speech as it pertains to social media. Second, this Thesis will reflect that schools have a duty to educate students on the proper utilization of social media. The landmark Supreme Court case of Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (2021) will serve as an important point of reference for examining the role and regulation of social media in regard to student free speech rights throughout this Thesis.