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Judge Rules Students Can Be Suspended for Fake MySpace Pages

A U.S. appeals court ruled Thursday that schools can legally suspend students for creating fake MySpace profiles, but only if the fabricated online personas poses some sort of school disruption. A three judge panel in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania came to their decision after a student posted a sexually explicit parody of her principal on her fake MySpace page. The panel ruled that the school could legitimately expect the post to disrupt normal school activities, and thus granted authorities the right to suspend the student. As HuffPo reports, though, another Pennsylvania court in Mercer County ruled, in a nearly identical case, that high schools don't have the right to regulate a student's digital activity at home, arguing that a child's MySpace posts fell under the umbrella of his or her right to free speech.

As social networking has become more prevalent in middle and high schools around the country, school authorities have been seeking some sort of definitive ruling on whether or not they have the right to police students on the Internet. As Witold Walczak of the ACLU tells the Washington Post, "The law was unclear and now it's in a state of chaos." To make matters worse, a case of this nature hasn't yet reached the Supreme Court, so lower courts are forced to use older high court rulings on the boundaries of school jurisdiction as their only legal compass.

The sole difference separating the two cases was that one school was able to "prove" that a student's online parody posed an imminent threat to school stability, while the other wasn't. Clearly, though, the divergent court rulings on both cases shows that the legal definition of "disruption" isn't uniform. Until a case like this reaches the Supreme Court, though, schools and students alike will have to tread carefully as lower courts feel their way through the untrodden territory of digital jurisdiction. [From: Huffington Post and The Washington Post]

Tags: free speech, freespeech, law, myspace, school, social networking, SocialNetworking, web