The nursing student expelled by her college after she posted a picture of herself holding a placenta to Facebook is suing the school.
22-year-old Doyle Byrnes posted a picture after a November lab session, in which Byrnes says the instructor did not object to the photographs being taken. After the teacher saw the pictures online, Byrnes removed them. However, the next day Byrnes and three other students were expelled; they may reapply for the August 2011 session.
Byrnes is seeking to reverse the decision, arguing that the pictures were not in violation of any school policy and that the instructor OK'd it; Johnson County Community College, for its part, denies that the instructor knew the photos would be used on Facebook. The school has also issued a statement: "We will not tolerate such insensitivity on the part of our nursing students. We also must protect the reputations of our business partners in health care."
It will be interesting to see how the case plays out, and of course the wider-ranging implications for social media policies. Byrnes doesn't appear to have broken any explicit confidentiality and the school's reaction seems knee-jerk, but should such a policy exist? The worry, of course, is that the same thing could happen with more sensitive material, remains or something similar. Since the story broke, some people have been tossing around the phrase "HIPAA violation" (the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act that in part guards patient privacy), but there doesn't seem to be any legal basis for the charge — especially given that the donated placenta isn't exactly identifiable in a picture. Rather, it's about judgment and that once things are on the web, a small error can have much larger implications.