Sunday, July 18, 2010

Georgia's New Bullying Law May Have Some Unintended Social Media Consequences

According to the Augusta Chronicle, the public school board in Richmond County, Georgia is banning almost all social media utilization by students on school computers for this upcoming school year. Students will only be allowed to utilize social media from public school computers if the usage it is part of their curriculum. This new ban is in response to a new law state law, The Georgia Bullying Law, O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.4 that goes into effect for the 2011-2012 school year.

I commend Georgia for their efforts to address bullying. At first blush, this new law appears to be a great idea. Its intentions are to stop a very troubling problem that may have long term negative consequences on those who are affected by bullying. However, while reviewing the new law I realized that the definition of bullying may be problematic. For example, O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.4 (a) states, "[a]s used in this Code section, the term 'bullying' means an act which occurs on school property, on school vehicles, at designated school bus stops, or at school related functions or activities, or by use of data or software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, computer network, or other electronic technology of a local school system,..."

The law's language covers the use of school owned electronic equipment and it may also apply to personal owned hand held devices. With the proliferation of mobile devices such as Blackberries or iPhones it will be very difficult and extremely expensive to enforce this new law because school officials may now have to determine where a Facebook post, Twitter update, or other social media communication occurred and the post's intent. There may also be some First Amendment challenges to this new law due to its broad definition of "bullying".

Social media postings by students are the modern day equivalent of passing notes and writing on the walls of the bathroom stalls in schools. The biggest differences between "old school" student communication and Social Media Age student communication is that the postings on social media generally have a much larger audience.

Implementing this new law may end up costing the taxpayers of Georgia more than they anticipated because it appears that it may provide authorities the ability to start subpoenaing family phone records and social media account records to determine who made a social media post and when and where the post was made. In addition, there are social media account authentication issues that will have to be addressed.

I believe that it would be more effective to educate students on proper social media manners and usage. This may be done via social media classroom instruction or by having an outside expert discuss social media issues with students. Legislating without education will not solve the problem. Education is the most powerful tool that can be provided to a student. Therefore, I urge Georgia to amend this new law before unintended consequences occur.

To learn how to educate students about the proper ways to utilize social media you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC.  All rights reserved.