It was just before 6 a.m. on a school day like any other when Louisiana teacher Deborah Vailes posted a photo to Facebook that would put her teaching career in jeopardy.
Vailes posted a photo of female students crying in frustration over "illogical" Common Core school assignments.
Vailes had a spotless conduct record in her more than 10 years in Rapides Parish School District, but by 1 p.m. the same day, all of that would change. Vailes received her first-ever reprimand from her school's principal in response to the Facebook post, saying it made Vailes appear "anti-Common Core."
According to a lawsuit Vailes filed early this year against the district, Vailes was also singled out for expressing her opinions online in a faculty meeting two days after the reprimand. Despite an executive order from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that teachers have the same rights of expression as anyone else, Vailes' attorneys say her punishment continuted and she was reassigned to a position she was told would be eliminated the following school year.
Vailes' case illustrates how the Internet has changed public discourse. Irina Raicu, director of California's Internet Ethics Program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, says the Internet gives people a false sense of security about speaking freely, and the fallout ultimately scares others out of saying anything at all.
“The tone of the Internet is outrage,” Raicu said. “This is not about people disagreeing and figuring out of each other’s positions, it’s an immediate jump to outrage that creates silence.”
Incivility feeds a theory that sociologists call the Spiral of Silence. The idea is simple: The more people are shamed or humiliated for speaking their minds, the less likely other people are to share their perspectives.