‘Meep,’ a principal & students’ free speech

By Anne Collier

It’s against school rules to say “meep” at Danvers (Mass.) High School. In fact, it’s also apparently against school rules or the law – not sure – for a lawyer in New York to email that indefinable word to the principal of Danvers High because, when she did, she got a reply saying her email had been forwarded to the Danvers police, that attorney blogged. This and other “meep” stories that have been flying around the fixed and mobile Web is actually a story about authority in the post-mass-media age. If it ever got to court, student calls to yell “meep” en masse at some point during the school day, for example, could possibly pass the substantial-disruption test that, if met, courts have said permits schools to discipline students who are otherwise exercising their free-speech rights (see “Court rules on student’s blog post”).

But could something this fun and nonsensical get to court? I mean, “meep” is the favorite (or only) word in the vocabulary of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s lab assistant on The Muppet Show, the Calgary Herald reports (but also the Roadrunner’s favorite “word” – remember him?). Which fact only heightens the predicament of Danvers High’s principal. School administrators really need to know how the Internet works. As GeekDad points out in his Wired blog, “the principal’s warning sounds awfully like a challenge.” Exactly. Attorney Theodora Michaels explains that, on the Internet, “attempts to silence information – or even nonsense – are consistently met with a proliferation of that very information (or nonsense) beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Anyone who tries to stop people’s honest criticism of their conduct – especially if they show that they’re highly sensitive to criticism (Going to the police? Seriously?) – is likely to be the target of further criticism. Their overreaction becomes a source of lulz,” which can have quite a snowballing effect (see UrbanDictionary.com for more). Which means that, in the post-mass-media age, authority gets dispersed – or distributed.

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