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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Despite free speech, use caution online
Users of Facebook wonder if everything they post is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. Everything that is posted on social-media sites is viewable by mostly everyone, and even if erased can be retrieved. Employers are asked to refrain from posting negative comments about their employees both in and out of work. However, many have been caught “Facebooking” while at work or on pretended “sick” days. This controversy was raised in The Washington Times’ article “Court rules Facebook ‘like’ button just as protected as written speech” (Web, Sept. 19).
The case this article details, Bland et al. v. Roberts, highlights this issue. Mr. Bland et al. claimed to have been fired by Sheriff B.J. Roberts because he had “liked” Sheriff Roberts‘ upcoming-election opponent on Facebook. Under the First Amendment, clicking “like” is pure symbolic speech and is as protected as any other type of speech. “Liking” the campaign of the sheriff’s political opponent, the Court of Appeals held, was substantive speech.
For that reason, it is important that employers and employees alike are disciplined in their online behavior. If it is protected speech, know that there are limits on what employers can and cannot say about your activities. To help shield an employee, it’s beneficial for an employer and employee to both refrain from using social networks while at work and even for the employer to block social-media material on their network.
In general, refraining from negative and inappropriate use of social networks is always advisable. You will never have to worry about online behavior if you keep it clean.
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