The Power of a Tweet

by Melissa Brunner

One tweet pushed Emma Sullivan, in a matter of days, from a few hundred people following her thoughts about Twilight and high school life to more than 10,000 people supporting her as a champion of free speech.

Sullivan is the high school student whose comment critical of Gov. Sam Brownback set off a firestorm for the reaction it drew from the Governor's staff. She's now making the rounds of national news shows and elicited an apology from the Governor himself for what he called his staff's "over-reaction." Their reaction - contacting the school about the tweet using the words "sucks" and "blows" - earned Sullivan a trip to the principal's office and an assignment to apologize. The school district is now backing away from that, and says Sullivan will face no repercussions.

So what do you think of all this? There are certainly many different sides one could examine. First, the reaction of the Governor's office. It's one thing to monitor what people are saying across social media, but what do you think about following up on comments in this manner? Current public opinion seems to be what the Governor's apology statement classified it - over-reaction.

What about how school officials handled the incident? Perhaps they'd get more sympathy for their case if they had made this about school policy - are students allowed to have and use cell phones during school hours? If not, then they probably could have argued that it wasn't about what Sullivan said, but, rather, what she did - i.e. broke the rules by texting her tweet during what was, in effect, classtime versus waiting until she got home. However, the story we're hearing is that they made it about what she said. In that context, do you feel the school was within its bounds to question her expression? To say she embarrassed them?

In its statement Monday, the district said the incident provides many teachable moments about the use of social media. I would think that's true for children - and adults. Now exercise your free speech and tell me what you think!


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