Is a student liable to disciplinary action by school authorities if he uses profane language on social media?
The question, along with the issue of freedom of expression, has arisen in the case of a student at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who used swear words on his Facebook page in reacting to news reports about the pro-democracy Occupy protest, Ming Pao Daily reports.
The student surnamed Chu, a junior at PolyU’s Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies, is an ardent supporter of the Occupy campaign, and even has a yellow ribbon for profile picture on his Facebook account.
On Nov. 3 Chu received a letter from the university, informing him of complaints from outsiders, who accused him of using foul language in some of the messages he posted on his Facebook account.
The school told him that the case had been transferred to the Student Discipline Committee and asked him to submit a written explanation by Nov. 6. It also warned him that failure to submit an explanation on time would result in penalties.
In his reply, which he submitted by the deadline, Chu asserted that the school had no right to meddle with the students’ Facebook accounts and should respect their freedom of speech.
He said he plans to file a complaint against the university’s disciplinary panel.
Asked whether it is proper to use swear words in online comments, Chu said he did so to let out his anger. He said he will be more careful with his words.
Dr. Chui Yat–hung, chairman of the Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association and an expert in counseling college students, said he doesn’t see any justifiable reason for the university to punish Chu.
Although using swear words is banned on some university campuses, he said he doesn’t know of any school that has rules restricting online comments by students. Personally, however, he said he does not encourage students to use foul language whether online or off.
Legislator Fernando Cheung, who also teaches at PolyU, said while college students should be careful with their language, the university appeared to have overreacted.
Chu’s use of profanities in his online posts is of no concern to the school, and therefore, the student need not go through a disciplinary process, Cheung said, adding that the university’s action might be construed as “white terror”.
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