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Expelled for Tweets
Joburg scholar told to leave school after social media account updates.
According to social media law specialist Emma Sadleir, a pupil has been expelled from a Joburg school because of the content of updates made on the social media platform Twitter. Here’s what Sadleir herself shared on Twitter:

@EmmaSadleir: Another child expelled from a Joburg school because of her tweets :( I'll be talking about this issue on Carte Blanche this Sunday.

Most schools include social media rules in a code of conduct which is signed by both pupil and parent/guardian. The content of these rules vary from school to school, but may include:
  • No access to social media below the age of 13 (or, in the case of age-restricted sites, 18).
  • No form of bullying of other children will be tolerated.
  • No inappropriate material will be accessed by the pupil, including images or videos of a sexual nature.
  • Racism and all other forms of hate speech will not be tolerated: foul, abusive, racist, sexist or blasphemous language is forbidden.
  • The pupil must not bring the school into disrepute.
According to a Mybroadband report, “Panyaza Lesufi of the Department of Basic Education said that, while it (online) is a difficult place to regulate, schools are at liberty to take action in matters that place them in disrepute.”

In that same MyBroadband report of July 2013, Sadleir was quoted as citing the following as reasons for recent expulsions from local schools: “Offences related to pornography, tweeting, cyber-bullying and general misconduct, where pictures of them drinking and smoking were posted on their Facebook page and they say they attend a particular school.”

No filters

In general, though, the rest of the code of conduct would apply to activities on social media. Since social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook are very difficult to keep entirely private, the dangers to schoolchildren creep in when they lack appropriate filters about what is acceptable to post. They may only have friends on their accounts, and so feel that they’re in a safe environment in which to express themselves, forgetting that any content uploaded to the internet, whether in words or images, is vulnerable to being shared and may remain on the internet for many years, perhaps even having a negative impact on job hunting in the future.

In some cases kids have found themselves being part of criminal investigations when uploading videos of bullying or sexual violence against their peers. Similarly, putting up pictures of underage pupils drinking at parties may have long-term devastating effects.

Some schools may even insist on having the passwords to the pupil’s social media accounts, although this raises discussions about the levels of privacy the pupil may enjoy. A school may even review a prospective pupil’s online activity before choosing to enrol the child as a pupil.

The US case of a child expelled for “using the F word on Twitter” (despite this happening outside of school hours) raised the question of how much freedom do school children really have on social media: If the child is using a social media account in their private capacity and not referring to the school in any way, is that child still considered to be acting as an ambassador or representative of the school?

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