Virtual Offenses with Real World Consequences for Students

In the U.S., many college students post regrettable things online, but they're usually protected under the First Amendment. However, virtual offenders can still be subject to backlash from their college or university and even the World Wide Web public. Whatever the root cause - spite, frustration, anger, hate or stupor-induced stupidity - seemingly silly rants can have real-world consequences for students.

How many times have you posted something online that you've later regretted? According to a 2010 survey documented by the online electronics retailer Retrevo.com, over half of the individuals they polled who were under 25 answered yes. With the accessibility and immediacy of the Internet and the ease of sharing, it's much easier for posts to be viewed by a wider audience than the original publisher might have ever anticipated. To be preemptive, many colleges are now integrating proper Internet behavior into freshmen orientation sessions.

youtube facebook harassment libel

Offensive Multimedia Posts

One of the more notable and recent virtual affronts was committed by now former UCLA college student Alexandra Wallace. While still a student at the university, she uploaded a nearly 3-minute-long diatribe about Asian students, now commonly known as 'Asians (on their cell phones) in the library.' Besides the obvious, the YouTube video makes fun of Asian families and mocks their languages. While the university expressed its outrage, the public went one step further. Not long after the posting, Wallace and her family were harassed. The student allegedly received death threats and had her personal information published. For safety concerns, she eventually dropped out of school.

Offensive Social Networking Posts

In 2011, a tornado storm brought destruction to North Carolina's Saint Augustine College campus. After the incident, Roman Caple, a student at the college, posted an incendiary comment on the college's Facebook page as well as sent similar messages to individual students. These acts, as well as the student's prior record of questionable behavior, incited the college to fight back. Consequently, Caple was given his cap, gown and diploma but was not allowed to walk on graduation day.

Negative online behavior was also found in medical schools throughout the country. A 2009 study published in The Journal of American Medical Association uncovered 47 out of 78 schools that had incidents of students posting offensive material online. This included discriminatory or profane language, sexually suggestive material, videos and photos depicting intoxication and posts about patients. Schools that responded to the poll indicated that offenders were typically given warnings; three schools dismissed students who were found in the wrong.

Continue reading for more information about real-world repercussions for virtual offenses.

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