The principal of a Tennessee high school is on paid administrative leave after comparing social media’s speech crackdowns to “McCarthyism” during a homeroom video message to students.
What are the details?
During his nine-minute address Monday, principal Barton Thorne of Cordova High School, near Memphis, said freedom of speech is being threatened by social media and tech companies, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all banned President Donald Trump — along with thousands of other users — in the wake of last week’s U.S. Capitol riot.
WREG-TV said it obtained audio of Thorne’s remarks to students during which he criticized the riot as well as the behavior of social media.
“It’s what’s going on with Twitter and Facebook and Google and Apple and their decision as private companies to filter and to decide what … you hear and know about,” Thorne said, according to the station.
Thorne stressed that his comments weren’t about Trump but about freedom of speech, WREG reported.
Because there have been times even in American history where a small group of people decided what you could hear. You think about McCarthyism,” he said, according the station. “If you don’t know about that, you can Google that or talk to your social studies teacher.”
Thorne also offered broad comparisons to 1990s federal standoffs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and in Waco, Texas, by Branch Davidians and David Koresh, the Commercial Appeal reported.
Thorne also told students that “a marketplace of free exchange of ideas” is at stake, the paper added, and that the lack of social media accountability and regulation “should be very chilling for you, that should be very frightening for you.”
He did denounce the U.S. Capitol siege, calling it “ignorance at the highest level. I don’t know of too many people that are going to be okay with what happened. I don’t care what side you agree with, we don’t practice sedition, we don’t attack our legislature,” the Commerical Appeal noted.
How did the school district react?
Officials of Shelby County Schools are reviewing Thorne’s comments, WREG said.
“To my understanding it was a recording that was shared on our virtual platforms,” Jerrica Phillips, the district’s chief of communications, told the station. Phillips added to the station that she’ll “have to learn more about whether or not it was an opening school message or how exactly it went out or what time of day.”
WREG said Thorne’s comments come at a time when SCS is working to help staff know the right way and wrong way to address politics and other issues.
“Emotionally charged situations, we have to sometimes temper back, recalibrate, think about the message we’re sending to our student,” Michael Lowe of the SCS Office of Equity and Access told the station. “Because Cordova is like the City of Memphis; it’s made up of a salad bowl of many different students of all areas of Memphis.”
District board member Sheleah Harris said the allegations are “extremely unfortunate and do not reflect the true value of” the school or the district, the Commercial Appeal reported.
With the horrific events from last week at our U.S. Capitol, we have to ensure our children, teachers, and school staff remain in a consistent environment that promotes safety, cultural sensitivity, and represents the highest level of excellence,” Harris added in a statement to the paper. “As leaders, we must be intentional about creating spaces for our students to discuss and process events that take place in our country and community.”
The Commercial Appeal reported that Thorne on Wednesday said “individuals who are inciting violence should be removed” and that a supervisor asked him to not speak at length to the media about his speech to students and the district’s investigation.