STUDY: Facebook Teaches Kids Freedom Of Speech

Facebook teaches students something their teachers don’t really appreciate: freedom of speech, which the U.S. protects in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

That’s the gist of a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey of 12,090 high schoolers and 900 teachers across the U.S., illustrating that appreciation of the nation’s First Amendment grows in proportion to students’ use of social media.

In fact, more than three-quarters of students use social media several times a week to get news and information. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who believe “the First Amendment goes too far” in protecting the rights of citizens has dropped to a quarter (24 percent) in 2011 from nearly half (45 percent) in 2006.

Fully 91 percent of students who use social networking daily to get news and information agree that “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.”

However, only 77 percent of those who never use social networks to get news agree that unpopular opinions should be allowed.

Still, many teachers believe social media harms education, and most teachers also do not support free expression for students.

Only 35 percent, for example, agree that “high school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities.”

In addition, teachers are more inclined to think that the emergence of the newest forms of digital media have harmed (49 percent) rather than helped (39 percent) student learning.

The teachers’ sentiments reflect broader trends, as school boards, lawmakers, judges and other officials debate how to set policies on the use of social media by educators. Unfortunately, fear of lawsuits has a strong motivating effect here.

The press release about the survey aptly sums up the situation in a choice quote from Eric Newton, senior advisor to the president of the Knight Foundation:

This is the first generation in history that can text, tweet and blog to the whole world, it’s great news that their support is growing for the freedon that let them do it. But the bad news is that teachers aren’t nearly as excited as students about social media or student freedom.

Readers do you agree with the study’s findings?

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