Teens And Their Teachers At Odds Over Social Media, First Amendment Rights

A new Knight Foundation study finds that using Facebook and Tumblr leads teens to a greater appreciation of the First Amendment–but their teachers think unbridled free speech for teens online isn’t such a good thing.


Teens hate censorship–at least if they’re using social media. A new John S. and James L. Knight Foundation study claims that the more American teenagers use social media, the more they appreciate their First Amendment rights.

Teachers don’t necessarily support teens’ animated .GIF sharing, and compulsive Facebook status updating, though. According to the same study, “The Future of the First Amendment,” most American teachers believe students should not have the right to unbridled, free speech online.

Conducted through interviews with 12,000 students and 900 high school teachers in the U.S., the study found a solid majority of American teachers believe limits should be placed on what their students say and do on social networks. For example, only 36% believe students have the right to express their opinions of teachers and school administrators online without the risk of in-school punishment. The same percent of teachers also believe students have the right to report controversial issues in their school newspaper without approval from authorities.

Alarmingly, 26% of American high school teachers believe that websites should not be allowed to publish freely without some sort of “government approval.”

Study author Dr. Kenneth Dautrich of the Pert Group found a correlation between teenage free speech advocacy and social media use. According to the report’s findings, 91% of American teenagers who use social media daily believe that people have the right to express unpopular opinions. Only 77% of those who don’t use social media daily believe that people have the right to widely share these beliefs online.

The Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton says, “Social media is good for the First Amendment. This survey shows a clear link between use of social media and appreciation of the First Amendment.” The study is the Knight Foundation’s fourth one on the topic since 2004. Both students and teachers were interviewed during Spring 2011.


Though the researchers primarily focused on–obviously enough–the First Amendment, some of their findings determined important changes in the ways that teenagers are using social media. The percentage of teens who watch videos on YouTube at least several times a week has jumped to 71% from 39% in 2006. Today, 50% of all American teens across income lines and geographic regions make mobile phone calls but just 15% did so in 2006. Today, more American teens text message (89%) as opposed to actually… you know, talk… on their mobile phones, though.

The study also found that only half of all American high school students have taken a class on digital media and digital literacy. However, the vast majority of high school students who responded use the Internet as a primary research tool for reports and papers.

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