Can we speak freely?

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is argued that authorities have violated this right by prosecuting those who express themselves freely in cyberspace, for example WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange vs US. This may implicate any and all of us, especially students – do we have the right to speak freely?

Keefe, a nursing student from the US, was expelled for posting “disturbing” content on Facebook. Whether or not his posts were truly disturbing is not the only issue here – his lawyer explained that these posts were private, therefore the school must have “violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure”. Another example is the case of Ngole; a student expelled from Sheffield University after writing anti-gay marriage opinions on Facebook. Cases like these are being taken to court on the justification of First Amendment rights – this podcast by the Knight Foundation discusses the recent change in attitudes towards students and their use of social media.



Photo credits. University lecturer Tony Fisher slating his students. It is reported that he is no longer a lecturer at the University of Nottingham as of March 2014.

The case of Tony Fisher shows that University lecturers also need to be cautious of their use of social networking sites.

In Topic 3, I mentioned that social media platforms are used by employers for recruitment purposes, highlighting the importance of professionalism. Therefore, there is also scope for University and College administrators to use web media as a disciplinary, expulsion (!), and even recruitment tool. It was found that 97% of colleges integrated social media into their recruitment efforts, according to NACAC. This report also found more than half of students gave links to their blogs to help the recruitment process (thanks #UOSM2008!). However, it’s wise to note the obvious negatives about this use of social media. A recent survey found that 31% of college admission staff used Facebook whilst 29% used Google to learn about their applicants. Of these, 30% reported finding information that negatively impacted on an applicants’ admission chances. Also, more than 75% of applicants expressed concern over admission officers Googling them. Take this quick poll: 

In Topic 2, I discussed a BMJ article which stressed how common it was for healthcare professional students to blur the line between their personal and professional lives. 44% of respondents reported seeing unprofessional material posted by colleagues, and majority of participants agreed that guidelines and policies for social media platforms would be beneficial. Whilst I initially contended this, further reading has shown me that it may do us a world of good. Maybe implementing social media policies can put a stop to students who quite frankly misuse our rights to “express ourselves”, for example the case of Hannah Kern.

Medical students have very specific guidance written by the General Medical Counsel which we are made aware of throughout our degree and career. I have collated information from various sources to produce a set of “Social Media Guidelines” for all students.

However, an issue still remains – is it ethical to enforce these “policies”, when we should have the right to speak freely?


Agence France Presse (2012). Does the US have a case against Julian Assange? AlterNet. Accessed on 20th April 2016.

David Hanners (2013). Student expelled from Brainerd nursing school for Facebook comments sues. TwinCities. Accessed on 20th April 2016.

Agency (2016). Christian student kicked off Sheffield University course for anti-gay Facebook post. The Independent. Accessed on 20th April 2016.

Anonymous (2014). “Absolute Arseholes” And “Idiots”: UoN Lecturer Slams Students And University On Public Facebook Profile. Impact Nottingham. Accessed on 20th April 2016.

Melissa Clinedinst, Sarah Hurley & David Hawkins (2012). State of College Admission 2012. National Association for College Admission Counselling. Accessed 21st April 2016.

Russell Schaffer (2013). Kaplan Test Prep Survey: More College Admissions Officers Checking Applicants’ Digital Trails, But Most Students Unconcerned. Kaplan Test Prep. Accessed 20th April 2016.

Jonathan White, Paul Kirwan, Krista Lai et al (2013). ‘Have you seen what is on Facebook?’ The use of social networking software by healthcare professions students. British Medial Journal Open. Accessed 20th April 2016.

Will Payne & Taylor Auerbach (2014). EXCLUSIVE: The TRUE identity of med student ‘Elizabeth Raine’ who planned to sell her virginity and why she really backed out of the auction after bids hit $801,000. The Daily Mail Online. Accessed 20th April 2016. 

General Medical Counsel guidance (2013). Doctor’s use of social media. Good medical practice. Accessed 20th April 2016.


Freedom of Speech in Social Media Age – courtesy of

Tony Fisher Facebook quote – courtesy of Impact Nottingham


Full interview podcast with Knight Foundation Senior Advisor Eric Newton – courtesy of



  1. Hey there,
    I found your post this week really interesting. I wrote mine about the issues of free speech online and almost having too much freedom which can lead to cyberbulling but I never thought to look at it as an invasion of privacy to view these things.
    Do you personally think its wrong for companies to look at our profiles and potentially not employ us because of the content? Do you think that its our responsibility to adjust our own privacy settings to prevent or allow this?

    What are your personal thoughts on the Keefe case? do you believe we should be able to be expelled because of something we post online or do you think that those things should be mutually exclusive. I understand more the case of Tony Fischer because at least his rude comments were related to his work, but what do you think of people like Justine Sacco who got fired for non-work related tweets (

    What is your opinion on things being the other way around and a student posting an offensive message about a lecturer online, do you think that should be treated with the same severity ?

    Hannah x

    1. Thanks for your comment! I will have a look at your post.
      I think everyone is entitled to free speech and that social media sites should provide the opportunity for people to speak their minds without it affecting their employment or profession, so yes! Why should we be judged by what we say to our friends?
      I think its hard to distinguish between those who take it too far though – from the article I read about Keefe it seems like his former college expelled him for very little and I’ve heard people say much worse on FB! Their argument was that he is training to be a registered nurse therefore different rules seem to apply to him.
      Definitely – I think cases like this have to be made more aware so that people can try to up their privacy settings, but they still have to be wary because (as in the case of Keefe) Universities can find ways of getting around the privacy settings!

      I don’t think we should be expelled, but maybe disciplined. The same article I’ve linked for Keefe explains the case of a student mortician whose FB comments got her in a bit of trouble.
      What do you think? There are also cases of people who get prosecuted:

      I do sympathise with Justine Sacco but the problem is she shouldn’t have made such a comment on a platform which is entirely public, such as Twitter. Whilst she should have the freedom of speech, she should also have some consideration to what she says – what do you think about that?

      I heard of a case like that but the students were anonymous :
      Do you think we should have our “freedom of speech” regulated and monitored in case of cyber bullying?


  2. I agree that freedom of speech is an individual’s fundamental right. However, I think freedom of speech in the context of social media is quite different. When someone makes posts on Facebook they are broadcasting their views to all of their hundreds (if not thousands of friends). If their privacy settings are low, such content could also be accessible by any member of the public. Considering this, posting inappropriate content just poses too many risks (as you have clearly explained) and should be avoided. Although I disagree that policies on how to conduct oneself on social media should be enforced, I agree with your wise advice in the video you have made.

    I loved your inclusion of a poll. Your examples of Keefe and Ngole show the risks of inappropriate use of social media but the poll clearly shows how close to home these issues are, as many of the respondents are likely on the #UOSM2008 course itself. I would be interested to know if after researching this weeks topic, you think your habits on social media will change at all? I know personally since starting this course, I have ensured my social media activities remain professional.

    There have also been cases where Facebook has automatically censored certain posts that may be inappropriate. However I think automatic censorship is a step too far and has the potential to be exploited. This occurred when Facebook censored anti-Paletinian postings but permitted anti-Israel postings at noted in this article:

    This example shows just how significantly censoring can be exploited, therefore I don’t think this is the answer to inappropriate use of social media, your advice is far more sensible!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I agree with that however I think that some people are unfairly reprimanded for what they broadcast online. That’s why we have movements such as #freetotweet and the Knight Foundation, whose aim is to protect peoples freedom of speech (or “First Amendment” rights as they say in America.
      Yes – after reading the Social Media guidelines that many universities have published for their students, and after realising that the University can take disciplinary action for our use of social media (especially if we make reference to being students in our posts e.g. #fourthyearlife or #mediclife or #whatelective? ). How about you?
      Thanks for bringing that to light – I didn’t really know about Facebook censoring posts, I think that could be considered unethical. Thanks for watching my video! Hope it helped.


      1. Yes I agree that some may be unfairly reprimanded for what they say online. I think this links back to the fact that no-one really knows what is acceptable to say online and what isn’t. What may be offensive to some, may not be to others, where should the line be drawn? It is this uncertainty that risks scaring individuals from not expressing themselves online for fear of being reprimanded for it. Surely there should be some sort of clarification on this, as it certainly risks throttling online freedom of speech. What are your thoughts on this?

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