FREE speech may be the buzzword on the Internet – but libel is unacceptable everywhere.
The message has been sent out loud and clear, with five junior college students being punished for posting offensive remarks about two teachers and a vice-principal online.
The students, all girls, were made to remove the remarks from their blogs and suspended for three days last month. Their parents were also informed.
The case is not an isolated one. Of the 31 secondary schools and junior colleges contacted, 18 said they were seeing more of such incidents as the number of bloggers surges.
Seven secondary schools and two JCs have asked bloggers who criticise or insult their teachers online – ‘flaming’ in Internet jargon – to remove the offending remarks.
One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a prude for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt.
“Frustrated old spinster. Can’t stand to see attractive girls,'' the blog read.
If teachers wish to prosecute, they may have legal grounds to do so.
Singapore Teachers Union general secretary Swithun Lowe said the union was ready to back any teacher who wanted to take legal action.
It has offered legal help to a few members, but they did not want to affect the prospects of their young students.
Lawyers say students can be sued for defamation, even if a teacher is not named.
“As long as someone is able to identify the teacher, and it is an untrue statement that affects his reputation or livelihood, then the student is liable,” said Doris Chia of Harry Elias and Partners.
But none of the schools contacted has banned blogging. Rather, many English and General Paper teachers encourage it to improve students’ language and writing skills.
Schools also said they did not police blogs. They say they only check them after complaints are made.
The recent cases of two young men and a teen charged with making seditious and inflammatory remarks about Muslims on the Net have led to teachers discussing the dos and don’ts of blogging with students.
It is not known exactly how many student bloggers there are, but after a recent school blogging competition, the Media Development Authority called the practice a “raging phenomenon among the youth.” – The Straits Times/ ANN