Social media a legal minefield for troubled students

In the wake of last week’s arrest of a student for allegedly making violent threats against police, some are saying that more needs to be done to help students understand the consequences of their online actions.

The student was handcuffed and arrested on his way to Arthur Phillip High School, the same school attended by the teenager who fatally shot a NSW Police employee outside the Parramatta police station last week.

The boy had allegedly posted a video on Facebook of Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione addressing the public about the shooting with the caption: "Bahahja f**k you motherf**ker Yallah merryland police station is next hope they all burn in hell."

He also posted footage of the news breaking of the shooting on Friday, commenting: "Serves you right I hope them lil piggies get shot."

Among the digital topics being taught at Arthur Phillip High School are critical thinking, which involves thinking clearly and rationally before making decisions and communicating. The medium, in this case, is digital communication.

So just how aware are students that broadcasting threats such as these can have them handcuffed, arrested and taken to the police station?

Not aware enough, Alex Kohn from Makinson d’Apice lawyers told The Educator.

“The education sector has slowly started to educate students about the risks, but I feel that more regular and rigorous training should be offered,” Kohn told The Educator.

“It should be a compulsory part of the curriculum these days because social media is now the norm for children, and I don't think they fully appreciate the legal risks they face by making malicious or even careless comments online.”

Many schools currently teach students about digital citizenship, which entails being responsible when accessing, sharing or posting online material. However, this also means understanding the consequences of acting outside the law when it comes to using the Internet.

“The main thing students should be aware of is that posting comments online means that those comments can be seen by a very wide audience,” Kohn said.

“Online comments are no different from paper based comments in that the laws of defamation apply. Therefore, all of us who post online need to be mindful not to defame someone else or breach their privacy.”

The arrested student has since been given strict conditional bail and is expected to appear at a children's court on 9 November.