Free Speech and Facebook - - ABC13

Free Speech and Facebook


Lynchburg, VA - Facebook lets us post pictures, talk to friends and even make political statements. But are your social media actions protected free speech? Virginia courts are trying to figure that out.

The plaintiffs say what they did on Facebook is free speech, but it cost them their jobs. 

Plaintiffs used the "like" button on Facebook to endorse a candidate for Sheriff in Hampton, Virginia. Here's the issue: The employees worked in the sheriff's office, and they "liked" their boss's challenger.

Do you think their "likes" are protected speech? We asked two Lynchburg lawyers.

Social media changed the way we communicate. Attorney John Falcone says the courts are entering new territory here.

"This is an evolving area of the law. Judges, lawyers and really everybody are really struggling with how it's going to develop," said Falcone.

For the first time, one person can type their thoughts to hundreds or thousands at one time. But are those thoughts protected by freedom of speech? It's not black and white. Your tweet or Facebook protection depends on who you are, what you post, and where you work - among other things.

"The 1st Amendment limits the action of government, of a public employer. The 1st Amendment doesn't limit the action of private employers," said Fred Watson, a civil attorney.

With that freedom comes pain. Some have gotten hurt on Facebook.

"There's so much drama on Facebook and everything. There's a lot of slander going on on Facebook," said Anthony May.

"It's freedom of speech. You got anything on your mind, you say it," said Chris Campbell.

As for Facebook's "like" button... should that be considered protected symbolic speech - like burning the flag? That question and others are still unanswered.

"We are going to have all sorts of issues we haven't even thought of now. The courts are going to have to stay on the cutting edge," said Falcone.

Once precedent is set for Facebook, it will most likely apply to other social media like Twitter. As for the Hampton case with those deputies, it's under appeal right now.

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