Free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy.
The First Amendment guides many U.S. citizens' core beliefs, shaping how we think and view ourselves compared to the rest of the world.
However, the First Amendment and social media don’t mix.
Though you can say practically anything online, often without legal consequence, the First Amendment won’t protect you from losing your job, livelihood or reputation.
ESPN recently suspended “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill for her social media comments about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the NFL national anthem controversy. ESPN specifically cited violations of the network’s social media policy.
Hayley Geftman-Gold was fired from her position as vice president andsenior counsel for CBS after she wrote on her Facebook page that she was not sympathetic to victims of the Las Vegas shooting because, she claimed, most country music fans are Republican. Geftman-Gold’s argument, though insensitive and idiotic, fell within her right to free expression. However, a law license and a thorough understanding of the First Amendment didn’t help Geftman-Gold keep her job.
Last year, United Airlines Pilot Michael Folk was suspended after tweeting that Hillary Clinton should be hanged for treason. Folk, who also serves in the West Virginia House of Delegates, let his political leanings (and word choices) directly impact his income. He had a right to say it, but his employer didn’t—and shouldn’t—allow it.
Also last year, a Miami man went on an epic rant about the election in a local coffee shop. His disparaging words were captured on video and posted online, turning him into a viral sensation. The self-employed man lost clients almost immediately and is still rebuilding his tattered reputation. He said things that were offensive, but not illegal, slanderous or defamatory. However, severe punishment was meted out by the marketplace.
PR pros, be careful with what you say online.
Realize that every thought that pops into your head does not deserve to be a Facebook post or a tweet. Many online problems arise from shoddy habits, poor word choices, failed attempts at humor and even auto-correct mistakes. Exercise extra care, and you could avoid a problem.