So here’s an interesting question. If your teenager tweeted that the governor of your state “blows a lot”, what would you do?
For me, it would depend entirely on who the governor was and if he or she really did blow a lot. For example, I would take real exception to a teen saying NY Governor Andrew Cuomo blows a lot because I think his engineering of the passage of same-sex marriage legalization was masterful and a real step in the right direction for greater equality in this nation. He totally doesn’t blow a lot. But if we were talking about Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas who’s an ardent anti-choicer and who, as a Senator, frequently voted against increases to medical research funding despite being vocally in favor of better research for cancer, well, yeah I would agree that he blows a lot.
Now, should a teenager who just met Governor Brownback on a school trip be tweeting her derision about him in real time? This is a question that arose this week when a teenager met Governor Brownback on a school trip and tweeted that he blows a lot right afterwards. My feeling is that if she wasn’t breaking any rules set by her school or parents about social media use, then she’s within her rights. The governor’s staff, however, found the tweet and got upset and told her school principal about it. The principal at first tried to get the girl to write an apology but she refused. The school later backed off on that, shortly after the Governor responded to his staff’s thin-skinned reaction by saying “Dude. It’s Twitter. She’s a teenager. Get over it.”
Which is the least blow-y thing I’ve ever heard of Sam Brownback doing and I’m glad that he did it. I’m sure he’s since then resumed his busy gubernatorial schedule of blowing a lot by cutting funding for education or attacking women’s access to healthcare or something.
The question of rules for kids relating to social media, school, and free speech is so complicated that I’m considering never teaching my son to read. It’s something that parents and schools are going to have to figure out as we go. And I’m probably going to have to figure out how to cover my own social media tracks so my son doesn’t follow my bizarre online example of being a wiseass until he’s smart enough to know where the lines are and what the consequences of crossing them are.
But I don’t think this girl in Kansas crossed any lines. There don’t seem to be any policies from her school or her mom and dad about what she’s allowed to tweet. And – and this is very important – she is 18. That makes her an adult who is entitled to all the rights of the Constitution including the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. There is no caveat on the First Amendment that says one cannot express grievances against the government using hashtags like “#heblowsalot”. In fact, I’m pretty sure Ben Franklin would have made liberal use of such hashtags if he were alive in the age of Twitter. For any government entity, even a misguided staffer monitoring online activity related to the Governor, to suggest that a citizen, an adult, and potentially a registered voter should apologize about her opinion about an elected official, well, that is actually and truly unAmerican. It doesn’t matter how crude or inarticulate her opinion is, it’s protected speech.
And that? Doesn’t blow a lot.