Emma Sullivan, and a Potential New Battleground for Social Media Censorship

Yahoo Contributor Network

The term of "freedom of expression" has an elusive definition in the 2011 rendition of America. The advent of the Internet and, in particular, social media have allowed speech to be defined as words typed and posted on web pages. What is and what is not legal or acceptable to be posted on the Internet has long been the subject of debate, but a high-school senior in Kansas may provide a platform for some decision on if, and how censored, the Internet and social media sites like Twitter should be.

Emma Sullivan, 18, made headlines Sunday, with her refusal of an order to write a letter of apology to her state's governor after being ordered to do so by her principal, reports the Associated Press. While meeting Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in Topeka, Kan., Sullivan tweeted to her then 65 followers from the back of a crowd of fellow students that she "just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucks, in person(hash) heblowsalot."Since news of her refusal broke, her follower list has jumped from 65 to around 3,000.

Though Sullivan never actually delivered these kind words to the governor himself; she is nonetheless being punished by her school officials.

The tweet may have gone unnoticed, but Brownback's office monitors social media sites for uses of the governor's name. After reading the tweet, Brownback's office contacted Karl R. Krawitz, Sullivan's principal at Shawnee Mission West high school, who then reprimanded her and demanded she write a letter of apology for her remarks.

The revelation that a United States governor is using funds to monitor and perhaps influence punishment for unflattering comments about him(while cutting art funding to bankroll "more important" services) is perhaps the most disconcerting element to this story, but most of the attention will go to Sullivan, Krawitz, and one of the most controversial unwritten letters in recent memory.

While Sullivan claims she was just joking around with family and friends, she wasn't joking about her dislike for Gov. Brownback, in particular his decision to veto all funds to the Kansas Art Commission, effectively making Kansas the only American state to entirely eliminate its arts budget.

It is yet to be seen if any legal action will arise, should Principal Krawitz persist in his order that Sullivan apologize for exercising a constitutional right to voice her displeasure with one of her state's public officials.

But the question of whether or not school officials have or should have the right to impugn their students for speaking their political views, or be able to suppress their vocalization altogether-despite the "speech" being words typed and posted on an online site the school is not affiliated with nor in charge of-could be the basis of a landmark social media censorship case.

Follow Phillip Warlove on Twitter @WarloveRevolit

View Comments