Facebook is often an outlet for some people – a place where their innermost thoughts can be shared with friends. The wisdom of using it for such, however, is highly questionable. Many people have lost their jobs or gotten suspended from school because they had a case of “TMI” on their Facebook wall.
In fact, right now, a first grade teacher is in danger of losing her job because of a rather controversial post she made on Facebook. A judge in New Jersey ruled that Jennifer O’Brien, a teacher in a school district in Paterson, would have to lose her job because she said “I’m not a school teacher – I’m a warden for future criminals”.
O’Brien had just been through a particularly harrowing day, with one of her students stealing from her and another student hitting her – which prompted the controversial comment. It was obviously meant only for her friends to see. However, as is commonly the case with social networks, word had a way of getting out. The comment quickly made its way through the grape vine and soon reached the school.
O’Brien was brought before Judge Ellen Bass, who said “O’Brien has demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity to the world in which her students live. The sentiment that a 6 year old will not rise above the criminal element that surrounds him cuts right to the bone. In a public education setting, thoughtless words can destroy the partnership between home and school that is essential to the mission of the schools.”
Since O’Brien’s comment was disparaging to the reputation of the school and the students in question, she might not be protected by the first amendment.
However, some people are of the opinion that such rulings only serve a person’s right to free speech. Said during a water cooler gossip session, O’Brien’s comment probably would not have sparked as much of an outrage. In fact, it could probably become something that she said in the heat of the moment – a byproduct of all the stress she experienced during the day – and could probably be taken back and retracted once she calms down. But since she posted it on Facebook, her comment will never truly disappear and will have long-lasting ramifications.
It’s still unclear whether O’Brien will lose her job, because the final decision will be dependent upon the state education commissioner. Still, the lesson that needs to be learned from this case is very clear: never post anything on Facebook that might come back to haunt you.