Twitter gives us the means to speak to a worldwide audience, allowing us to air our accomplishments, our arguments, and our funny pet videos. Operating with little government intervention, Twitter offers one of the most liberal social media platforms for exercising our First Amendment rights.
With that freedom, of course, comes responsibility. Schools regularly examine students' social media posts when a student is the subject of a disciplinary action, and tweets can easily end up as evidence in a disciplinary proceeding.
There are several ways schools use tweets to investigate student activity.
Title IX Investigations
Title IX is a federal law that protects students from sexual discrimination and harassment. All schools that receive federal funds are obligated to abide by Title IX rules, including prohibitions on sexual misconduct. Because students sometimes refer in their Twitter posts to the situations where alleged sexual misconduct occurred, schools often look at accused students' social media as part of a Title IX investigation. Ferris State University, for example, advises student victims of sexual assault to “Consider preserving digital evidence using screenshots of social media posts, emails, text messages, or direct messages.” Rutgers University's Title IX Policy and Grievance Procedures specifically state that parties will be allowed “to submit any information, including...social media posts...that relates to the alleged Covered Sexual Harassment.”
Other Disciplinary Proceedings
In other types of disciplinary proceedings, students may be accused of violating a school policy that may have nothing to do with Title IX, ranging from honor code violations to trespassing to vandalism and more. As with Title IX matters, schools typically have wide latitude to use evidence such as tweets in these types of disciplinary investigations.
Private School Code of Conduct Matters
Many private colleges and universities are operated by religious organizations, and prohibit their students from engaging in certain activities that are otherwise legal. Notre Dame, for example, states that “students who engage in sexual union outside of marriage may be subject to referral to the University Conduct Process.” Oral Roberts University requires its students to pledge that they will not “engage in or attempt to engage in,” among other things, “homosexual activity,” and violation is also an honor code offense.
Tweets and other social media posts are often used as evidence that a student has violated these sorts of prohibitions. Tweets may show that an unmarried male/female couple are living together in violation of a school's policy against doing so outside of marriage, or provide evidence of a student's sexual orientation, gender identity, or even support for LGBTQ rights. Students in these situations need to be particularly careful with their Twitter and social media posts.
Don't Face Investigations Alone
If your tweets are being used to build a case against you in a school disciplinary proceeding, don't face the process alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help. Joseph D. Lento and his team have helped hundreds of college students across the United States fight allegations of Title IX and honor code violations. Call Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or reach out through our contact form to discuss the details of your case.