A study conducted by the Knight Foundation has found that "students who use social networking daily to get news and information" are more likely to agree that 'people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions'," than those who don't use social networks. And the more kids use social network, the more likely they are to hold that opinion. Fully 91 percent of those surveyed who use social networks daily agree with that premise compared to 82 percent of monthly users and 77 percent of those who never use social media, the study found.
The study included a questionnaire completed by 12,090 students and 900 teachers.
The research report said the relationship between social media usage and support for free expression holds up "even when other possible factors are controlled for." The study also found that the higher the student's grade point average, the greater the support for free speech.
Social media users were also more likely to support student expression on school issues: "Seventy-two percent of daily social media users agree that students should be allowed to express opinions about teachers and administrators on Facebook without the risk of school discipline, only 56 percent of those who do not use social networks agree," the study found.
Student usage patterns
The study also found some interesting student usage patterns. "Fifty-six percent spend at least some time finding out what is occurring in the world around them, and 47 percent spend at least some time seeking information about what is happening in their school. Fifty-five percent report spending at least some social network time sharing opinions and finding information about their friends. Forty-six percent spend at least some time sharing personal information with their friends."
First Amendment appreciation on the rise
The study (which has been going on since 2004), found that the number of students who believe that "the First Amendment goes too far in protecting rights" declined from 45 percent in 2006 to 24 percent in 2011."
In a podcast interview (scroll down to listen), Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation, said that "after years of doing the future of First Amendment surveys, it looks lie the most most significant increase in student attitudes about freedom have come here now during the era of social media." This positive correlation, he said, has come "during an era of explosion in social media," at a time when "teaching of the First Amendment is down in American schools since our last survey."
He added that "student attitudes and use of social media doesn't even compare to what their teachers are thinking and doing with social media." While students are more than twice as likely to use social media," he said that "49 percent of the teachers said that they think social media is harmful to education and a majority of the teachers don't think it's OK for students to go home and do Facebook posts about school."
Teachers' attitudes differ from students'
The report found that 61 percent of students, but only 35 percent of teachers, agree that "high school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities." Sixty-nine percent of students, but only 36 percent of teachers, agree that "students should be allowed to express their opinions about teachers and school administrators on Facebook without worrying about being punished at school for what they say."
Many American schools ban the use of social media on campus and it's not uncommon for school "porn filters" to also block Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
Click below to listen to the full interview with Knight Foundation Senior Adviser Eric Newton.
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