Three girls in Indiana who were expelled from Griffith Public Schools for cyberbullying are using an “emoticon defense.” The teens claim they were joking about killing their classmates on Facebook, and these smiley faces are proof that they were not serious.
The thing is, even with this “emoticon defense,” the killing jokes could still be considered cyberbullying because the discussion could have inflicted emotional harm on the people they were discussing on the popular social networking site.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Griffith Public Schools district because the eight grade girls were expelled as a result of their personal, off campus discussion.
Gavin Rose, an ACLU attorney, said, “The legal analysis asks whether a reasonable person viewing the conversation would conclude that the girls were about to inflict imminent harm. I think the use of emoticons and other forms of Internet-speak are simply one factor demonstrating that that was not the case.” This is, of course, the “emoticon defense.”
Even so, is the use of emoticons enough? Emotions do not come through very well in online writing, and it is easy to take things in a different manner than they are intended. It is also very easy to put a little smiley face beside something very hurtful in an attempt to get away with being meaner than you would ever be to a person’s face.
Even though the ACLU filed this lawsuit, it seems that these girls were rightfully expelled because the targets of the cyberbullying comments felt afraid to go to school after reading what they wrote. This will certainly be an interesting case to follow. The ultimate goal should be to stop bullying in all forms and help make sure students are safe at school.