Facebook Kill List Prompts School Expulsion, ACLU Lawsuit

    April 26, 2012
    Drew Bowling
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The hyper-vigilance against bullying continues to produce situations where it is difficult to discern between legitimate threats or intimidation and dark but innocent adolescent humor. The latest entry into the pool: three eighth-graders in northwest Indiana have been expelled due to a Facebook comment thread where they discussed which of their classmates they would like to kill.

A parent happened upon the thread and turned in a copy to the girls’ principal, who then suspended the girls for ten days before ultimately deciding to expel the trio.

The American Civil Liberties Union has responded to the girls’ expulsion by filing a lawsuit that claims their freedom of speech has been violated. From the Chicago Tribune:

According to the complaint, the conversation went from discussing the pain of cutting oneself while shaving to the girls’ friendship, before shifting to which of their classmates they would kill if given the chance.

The ACLU says the girls engaged in “teenage banter” and the conversation could not have been interpreted seriously. The complaint noted that the girls repeatedly used emoticons that indicated they were joking.

The complaint goes on to explain the difficulty the girls’ families have endured since being expelled, from financial hardship to denial of admission into other schools.

The girls are minors so their names were not released to the public, so it’s really kind of a needle in a haystack to try to find the original comments – assuming that the comments haven’t been deleted or the accounts haven’t gone on super lockdown privacy mode entirely.

These cyber-bullying scenarios are always murky waters to wade through. On the one hand, there have been some heartbreaking instances where making threats on Facebook have had grim consequences, such as in the case of Amanda Cummings, who committed suicide after enduring torment from classmates on both the website and in school. Whether this case in Indiana is the same or even remotely similar is unclear. Gleaning from the ACLU statement, though, it doesn’t appear that the three Indiana girls were actively threatening someone.

Talking about killing people on Facebook hasn’t gone without legal repercussions before. In Britain, a woman was sentenced to three months in jail due to making death threats via Facebook. Again, those threats seemed fixated on one person over a long period of time.

Aside from whether the school’s actions were justifiable or not, supposing the girls’ list of people they’d like to kill was driven by even a modicum of seriousness, simply suspending the girls from coming to school doesn’t exactly correct the girls’ behavior. In fact, now they’ve got all kinds of free time to plot and seethe about their death list because they no longer have to worry about going to school. Assuming there was any validity supporting the girls’ discussion, it’d be just as easy for them to target somebody outside of school as it would be inside the school. Kicking them out of school does nothing to redirect their aggression or actually impart on them the lesson that bullying is wrong.

Then again, that’s all supposition and it’s not clear whether the kill discussion had even a granule of sincerity. That’s why this stuff is so troubling because no school official wants to be the negligent one who didn’t “see the warning signs” before a student goes on some Columbine-like spree, which prompts school officials to be on Defcon 5 levels of alertness about potential bullying or threats. Unfortunately, otherwise innocuous chatter like what may have been the case for the girls in Indiana get picked up in this dragnet and punished as if they were absolutely serious about killing classmates.

Do you think the school responded appropriately? Or did they really overreach their bounds here by expelling the girls for an online discussion? How would you have liked to have seen this issue handled? Chime in below with a thought or two.

  • Bonnie

    I would like to commend you on maintaining an unbiased attitude throughout this article. As a mother of one of the expelled children it is nice to see someone who is not twisting their, as you stated, “dark sense of humor” to make them sound like bullies. The media has spent a lot of time making them out to be bad guys while ignoring the fact that none of these comments were made toward the people mentioned, and those people would not have even seen the conversation had they not been reading from another classmates page as they were blocked. Not only that, but this was a conversation that had well over 100 comments. The part of the conversation that caused the problem didn’t even happen until 60~70 comments into it, so one would REALLY have to be in their business to get that far, and how is that not invasion of privacy, stalking, and harassment in itself? It was a misinterpreted conversation…that has gotten blown WAY out of proportion!

    • Hero

      Bonnie, with all do respect. You are so NOT impartial it makes my eyes bleed. You are way too involved. I absolutely understand your need to protect your daughter. And that IS what you are trying to do. However, your daughter had a printed and detailed conversation about killing a fellow student(s). You don’t see that as severely wrong? How can you prove intent?? Because you ‘KNOW’ your kid??
      ‘Not my kid’ syndrome is running rampant in our country and needs to get under control. YES, assume your kid is doing drugs. Yes, assume your kid is having sex. Yes, assume your kid lying to you. Don’t be so naive.
      Bonnie, I hope you disciplined your kid in a bad way, and not with a good ‘talking to’ and idle empty parent threats. Your child needs structure, and a psychiatrist. Do I believe your kid was going to kill another? I don’t know and you don’t either. Only she does.
      Stop being an enabler and start being mom, and parent dammit!!!

      • http://www.webpronews.com/author/drew-bowling Drew Bowling

        She never said she was impartial and, understandably, she probably couldn’t or shouldn’t be. But thanks for propagating the whole “blown out of proportion” thing.

  • Paul

    As someone who grew up before Columbine was even considered, I find it sad that people even want to punish kids to the extent that they do. But, my mother knew what I did. She might have been pissed at some of the comments I made, as would the parents of people I had issues with, but it would have been handled by my mother.

    People who go straight to the schools know they are ruining the lives of the kid or kids. To me, it is more of an assault on those girls than a form of discipline. I do not know them, nor will I ever meet them, most likely, but feel for them. Some moron went out of their way to destroy three girls for their childish indiscretion.

    The person that did this is as much to risk to kids as the parents of the boys of Columbine. The reason: they believe the system and not parents should raise kids. This mentality has led to several horrific acts. Kids sometimes say innapproriate things, it is called being a kid. Sometimes this needs correction, but by the parent, not the schools. I dislike the ACLU greatly, but completely agree with them on this.

    As for you, Hero (ohh, idiotic name for someone who proved by your words that you are no hero, especially to kids), How do you know that the parents don’t know their kids? Take it from someone raised by a mother who was clueless but a grandfather who knew me well, a real parent knows. A real parent allows their child to mess up, as it helps them grow. Do I condone the speaking of killing, no. At the same time, I have had the conversation with friends of mine on where we would be snipers from to cause maximum damage. It was an ongoing joke by us. Did any of us do this, nope.

    The more that people try to cause kids to grow up, the more they are destroying children. A response such of this shows the need for people to go back to parenting, not be part of a nanny state.

  • http://yahoo Dareen Cannizzaro

    Expelled? Thank GOD that someone is taking action BEFORE we end up saying “why didn’t someone do something?” I am so sick of hearing AFTER the fact that no one took them seriously, no one thought they were serious and some innocent child dies. Freedom of speech is not absolute. If you wish to spout Nazi propaganda so be it, but you cannot incite a riot or urge people to harm! Likewise the world wide web is NOT (or should not be) a place where someone can casually mention murder! Speak your mind in this country of course, even if you are out of it. But a line HAS to be drawn and thank GOD someone had the courage to do that.

  • linda

    I don’t think I would have expelled them, but I certainly WOULD have monitored the site to see if the sentiments were continued. What I do not understand is the lack of action by authority figures at the schools where most of the bullying takes place. Those bullies should be expelled on the spot and charged and prosecuted for assault and battery! I really hate bullies!

  • andrew

    in this day and age it is just plain stupid to make those kinds of comments. I referee sport and one player threatened another. I knew he didn’t really mean it but if I had taken no action then I would have been in trouble. instead of filing a report that would mean the player would have been suspended for two months I sent them from the field for the remainder of the game and advised them not to make those comments again in future. it may be annoying but one has to deal with the reality we live in which is people are on high alert for these kinds of things.

    having said all that i never discussed that kind of stuff.