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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Students deserve online privacy

In Maryland, the Student Social Media Privacy Bill is awaiting Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature after its 132-7 vote in the House of Delegates. The bill will protect students’ legal liability over their social media posts, thus protecting their privacy.

Privacy lawyer Bradley Shear recently told the Student Press Law Center that he is “cautiously optimistic” that Maryland’s Republican governor will sign the bill.

“This bill is not intended to protect people from saying or doing dumb things online,” Shear said. “It’s designed to ensure that they have the same privacy protections that they have in the physical space, but in the digital space.”

So, what does that mean for students?

At least in Maryland, it means they will be free of the social media police and will finally be able to keep their professional and school lives separate from their private lives. After all, work and school are not all that people do, and one shouldn’t be punished for what they decide to post or write on their social media accounts.

It is understandable for a school to need to look into a student’s social media account to monitor cyberbullying or other legal issues. However, a lot of the time, schools look into students’ social media for reasons they shouldn’t — i.e., when students are applying to schools or are being recruited by school sport teams.

Students shouldn’t lose opportunities based on what they decide to post on their social media accounts. After all, what is the difference between a school snooping on students’ social media or tapping into their text messages? Both are invasions of privacy involving one’s life outside of school and work.

A school shouldn’t have to review students’ social media accounts to gain more information about them. Schools should be able to learn what they need from an application, and they shouldn’t turn to social media to fill in the gaps. If a school can’t determine the personality and well-being of a student from in-person contact, social media wouldn’t help it much, either.

In fact, many people appear differently on social media than in real life. The concept of social media is rooted in privacy; that’s why each account requires a username and password and has the option of only having certain people view their information. 

On Instagram’s website, it states, “Instagram is a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends and family.”

Nowhere does it say “a place for schools to review how you present yourself.”

Jane Bambauer, UA associate professor of law, said the bill is “really quite narrow.”

“The bill is carefully crafted to tackle a particularly distasteful intrusion into young peoples’ lives. … This is the Digital Age equivalent of a high school principal demanding an invitation to a party,” Bambauer said.

And that is just what it is: schools wanting to invade students’ private lives. If the bill passes in Maryland, other states should hop on board.

“It may keep a school from engaging in a practice that undermines trust and mutual respect,” Bambauer said.

The digital age has made communication easy and convenient, but it has also thrown privacy out the window. It is important to not only protect one’s social media privacy in general but to also prevent schools from snooping on students.


Jessica Terrones is a journalism freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

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