Journalism 2011 Portfolio

Freedom to tweet

By Ana Billotti
Round Table editor 

On Nov. 21, Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas tweeted, “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Thus, Sullivan unknowingly sparked a firestorm about freedom of speech and social media networks.Sullivan was attending a Youth in Government Program in Topeka, Kansas where Governor Sam Brownback was speaking at when she sent her tweet.

Brownback’s office monitors social media networks for postings that include the governor’s name and when they saw Sullivan’s tweet contacted the youth program coordinator who then contacted Sullivan’s principal.

Sullivan was called into her principal’s office and told that she needed to write an apology to Brownback. But in a strange turn of events, Brownback is now finding himself the one to issue an apology.

“My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms,” said Brownback in a statement released Nov. 28.

Sullivan, who’s followers on Twitter went from 62 to over 15,000 people, has been using the social media site to continue to bring awareness to the topic; tweeting, “I’ve decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard! #goingstrong.”

This public example of freedom of speech is a great tool to teach others about the protection of their First Amendment rights. In a day and age where anything and everything can be posted for the public to view and comment on, it is important to teach not only teenagers and children, but adults as well about freedom of speech and the use of technology, when it is combined.

Sullivan’s tweet, regardless of how harsh it may sound, is protected under the First Amendment.

Under the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Freedom of speech does not just protect a person when they say something to a person’s face. It means that, like Sullivan, they can tweet an opinion, or post a status and as long as their actions don’t put others in danger their freedom of speech is protected.

Freedom of speech has always come under fire, from freedom of speech in films (Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson; 1952) to preventing a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a school assembly (Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser; 1986).

Freedom of speech is granted to every citizen in the United States but as society becomes more involved with online social media, freedom of speech is sure to be targeted more frequently.

Sullivan is well within her First Amendment rights and, although she may receive some dislike for what she said, she is protected and allowed to voice her own opinion.

High school students across America should take note about freedom of speech and the use of the internet because it is easier today then it was twenty years ago to get in serious trouble for comments posted online.

Caitlin Ortiz, a college student, got in trouble with her softball coach, in June, after posting a picture of herself and lyrics from Big Sean and Chris Brown’s song, “My Last.” She reportedly lost her scholarship and was kicked off the softball team at her school.

Sullivan, just like Ortiz, is doing the right thing by taking a stand and making a point. Sullivan didn’t do anything wrong, but tweeted her own opinion and yet she got in trouble for it.

Taking a stand and promoting the protection of First Amendment rights is important and it takes strong individuals to do that.

Twitter on Dec. 15 will be holding an event called “Free to Tweet”. They invite students ages 14 to 22 to tweet their support for the First Amendment with the hash tag #freetotweet. This will enter them in a competition to win a $5000 scholarship.                                                                                                         

However, anyone is welcome to tweet and show their gratitude for the first amendment rights and Twitter is already getting big name celebrities to join in, such as, Ke$ha, Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley.

The First Amendment needs to be protected because it is essential to the freedom of every citizen in the country. If it comes to making an individual’s story public to help bring awareness to a cause than that may just need to happen.

As Sullivan tweeted, “‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ –Gandhi.”

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