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The First Amendment of Social Media: Freedom of Tweet

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression from government interference. While it is within our right to say what we think without fear of prosecution from our Government, freedom of expression in social networks however, is something altogether different. In the court of public opinion, your words can and will be used against you. But what works against us, also works for us.

While the egosystem is seemingly rife with unintelligible chatter, it is, in and of itself, revealing a new direction for our culture and society.  In this brave new world of altruism and self actualization, the lines that divide offline and online personae and experiences blur into one real-time, real world lifeway. Indeed, the impact of social and mobile technology is profound. As a result, human behavior has diverted towards a very public genre of expression, discovery, and extroversion, and packaged in brevity and frequency.

We are beguiled by this new found freedom of speech, sharing a communal desire to find our voice, protected by a false sense of security. The statusphere and blogsphere are rich with perpetual observations and declarations, but we lose something in translation. While content was once king, in social media, where character and word count is precious, context ascends to the top of the ranks. In short form, context is elusive and in order to convey intent and desired outcomes, one must master the art and science of storytelling and influence. We must realize that what we think we’re saying might not convey as desired. There’s a difference between what we say and what is heard. And now with social media, intention is often eclipsed by abbreviation.

#IAmSpartacus

27-year old accountant Paul Chambers learned about context and character the hard way recently when he tested his Freedom of Tweet. In January 2010, Chambers Tweeted, “”Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

He was later convicted and fined. In November 2010, he lost his appeal. What was intended as a joke, in hindsight, is now vividly clear to see just how things can be taken out of context – especially on Twitter. Yes, his Tweet was in poor taste. His action was the catalyst for a national example of prudence. But, the Twitter community stood by Chambers and their Freedom of Tweet by uniting under the hashtag #IAmSpartacus upon learning his appeal was lost.  With homage to the film, Spartacus’s fellow gladiators demonstrated unanimity by declaring, “I am Spartacus.” Twitter denizens showed solidarity with Chambers by repeating his Tweet to the point of topping the Trends in Twitter for an entire day.  While many stand united on Twitter, the reality is that Chambers lost his job and still faces conviction and a significant legal bill.

Judge Jacqueline Davies said of the Tweet “It’s menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”

Context vs. Intention

A Rude Awakening

Inner monologue and filters usually prevent us from uttering words that could haunt us or worse, harm us. Social Media erode these filters enticing us to share in public what might be better shared with discretion. Perhaps our screens shroud us in a protective light.

Either way, there is no shortage of stories where students are dismissed as candidates based on what college admissions officers discover on social networks. Accordingly, job candidates also lose opportunities without realization as HR managers discredit them based on what they share in social media. We’ve also read many stories where employees are fired for lambasting customers or  bashing management.

Our digital shadows work for and against us. When it comes to matters of education and employment, perhaps it is not wise to test our Freedom of Tweet unless it is advantageous to do so. In a groundbreaking case however, we see that the First Amendment of Social Media may in fact, officially take shape.  An employee who criticized her employer on Facebook was recently fired for doing so. Now the National Labor Relations Board accused American Media Response of illegally firing her.

According to the National Labor Board, Social Media are essentially digital water coolers. Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon expounded, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”

This landmark case will serve as precedent for the coming flood of cases to consume courts.

While common sense is uncommon, it seems that in this case, at least employees are covered even if judgment lapses. The National Labor Relations Act gives workers a federally protected right to form unions and it prohibits the punishment of workers for discussing working conditions or unionization.

This significant move by the NLB triggered a “lawflash” by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a law firm with a large labor and employment practice representing hundreds of companies, “Employers should review their Internet and social media policies to determine whether they are susceptible to an allegation that the policy would ‘reasonably tend to chill employees’ in the exercise of their rights to discuss wages, working conditions and unionization.”

In case you glossed over the above paragraph, it essentially says that your social media policy might open up the organization to potential complaints, suits, and liabilities.

With Social Media Comes Great Responsibility

Yes, social media is the democratization of information. We’re inspired to express ourselves and are rewarded every time we share a bit of who we are and what moves us with the recognition and validation of response and connection. But with this new voice and platform, we must also embrace a more informed era of consciousness. Now more than ever, vigilance becomes a virtue. While this so-called First Amendment of Social Media is written and tested in real time, it is up to us to say and do the things that share not only who we are, but also who we want to be personally and professionally.

I Tweet, therefore I am…protected?

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78 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The First Amendment of Social Media: Freedom of Tweet”

  1. Ken Yeung says:

    Great post, but it’s led me to offer a few points of possible contention…

    First of all, the fact that Paul Chambers has published his infamous tweet that has gotten him into professional AND legal trouble is not something that can entirely be explained away by “I’m protected under the First Amendment” because, while I’m not a lawyer (and that’s important to know), surely you can’t yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre and expect to be protected under the law when someone dies. If you can’t yell “bomb” on a plane, then what possible excuse is there to do it in a tweet where there’s a vacuum of emotions and personality – we can’t always tell whether people are being serious, sarcastic, crazy or actually just desperate for attention. Yes, the police/federal agencies could have done a much more thorough investigation, but I think that it’s better that they did what they did to make sure that Chambers wasn’t a lunatic…you can tweet whatever you want, but don’t go nuts and tweet something that will surely get you into trouble and claim First Amendment privileges. It’s not absolute.

    As for a social media policy, I think this is an on-going debate…because quite frankly, I find it very hypocritical of companies to say they embrace social media and then fire people who talk negatively about their company. Okay, I don’t believe what I said 100% because you have to include the term “technically”. It’s not black and white. Sure, companies should understand that social media opens them up to the world and allows communication and dialogue, but should trust their employees to interact and engage with customers and the world. In turn, it’s the employee’s expectation and responsibility to behave like a true professional and use their common sense. Just because there’s social media doesn’t mean that you air out your dirty laundry and hope that no one of interest will care, because one way or another, people will find it and get the information – your data is NOT safe online…

    While you say the First Amendment of social media is the freedom to Tweet, I think that there should be an understanding that with more published information online via tweets, photos, videos, posts, etc, that there are people just chomping at the bits waiting to find that one negative thing and then pounce on it. We’re not about engaging conversations…it’s now stalking the conversation.

    • Dave says:

      I see your point, but I think you’re wrong. Our freedom of speech exists for a reason, and any effort to quell it should be challenged at every opportunity. Chamber’s didn’t yell “fire” or “bomb” – he vented his frustration in an open, traceable, public forum. The airport was closed. There were, presumably, no crowds to panic. No risk of stampede. Should the “threat” have been investigated? Yes. Should the guy have been prosecuted? No! I have to wonder if the judge really read the the tweet or just looked at the words. Did she even try to understand the tone as well as she claimed to understand the content? Perhaps I’m not an “ordinary” person, as she suggested, but it didn’t phase me at all. It was asinine, but hardly threatening.

      If we consign ourselves to always hiding our true feelings and creeping around in the dead of night to bury our passions and convictions, we don’t deserve the freedoms so many have fought and died for. Open and honest communication is key to any progressive society and any unreasoned attempt to stifle an individuals right to express themselves is far more foolish and destructive than any employee comment or “destructive” expression of frustration.

      If anything, you should want to hear what your staff has to say so you can better manage your business. Would you rather them stay quiet while everything goes down the drain? How is Chambers rant against an airport that different from someone burning a flag? Would I do it? No. But I would argue his right to say what he wants to say unless the law can offer a compelling reason that he shouldn’t – and I don’t believe that was done in his case.

      To me, his comments were no more out of line than the lyrics of certain music or the content of any number of video games and movies. Yet these expressions of violence and horror are protected, but his handful of words are a crime? Is this vigilance, or cowardice?

    • Yuhong Bao says:

      “because quite frankly, I find it very hypocritical of companies to say they embrace social media and then fire people who talk negatively about their company.”
      Well, I would not go that far, but yes IMO direct response is much better.

  2. If you are a student or job candidate, the onus is one you to manage your online reputation. Mange you privacy settings so keg stand photos aren’t the top search results. Also, blog and maintain your professional profile on LinkedIn so the good press is at the top.

  3. 40deuce says:

    I’ve been following both the cases you’ve spoken about and I find them quite interesting. While I don’t know what an appropriate way to go about dealing with some of these things would be, I thought I’d throw in my two cents…

    I’m coming at this from my personal perspective on social media, so it may be different than most peoples, but that’s ok.

    First, that whole “first amendment” thing is great to claim… but only if you’re american. I’m a Canadian. If I tried to get away with saying, “well, the first amendment gives me the right to say that,” I’d just get laughed. I know that you’re based in the US Brian, but social media is a world-wide thing, so that rule doesn’t apply to most of us.

    Secondly, in regards to the cases you discussed above I have a few thoughts. I personally use Twitter and Facebook very differently. Twitter is a network where I’m open to the world. Anyone can follow me and watch anything I say. However, Facebook I use just to stay in touch with real friends. I don’t add business contacts or people who I may have ran into once at an event. It’s strictly for my friends and I have the privacy settings on so that only my friends can see what I do there. For that reason, I would say that I feel more comfortable saying something that may be deemed negative there (although I’ve never said anything bad about my employeer… I swear).
    I think a lot of people look at Facebook somewhat the same way. It’s more of a private area than another social network like Twitter. Facebook is a place where I can say things, and although it’s semi-public, I don’t feel like I’m broadcasting to the world. I wouldn’t want someone like my employeer “spying” on me there. On the other side Twitter is a much more public venue. Most Twitter users don’t have any privacy set to their accounts and everything they say can be seen by anyone in the world. Somewhere like here I think that people need to exercise a little common sense. When you post to Twitter, although you’re sitting alone at a desk or what have you, you’re still on display for the whole world. You have to think, “would I say that in front of my bosses face?” or “would I say that on international TV for the whole world to see?”

    I think that people need to understand what each of the social networks really is and how they work before they just start blurting out things. The world we currently live in is much different than it was even 10 years ago. Everything we type is permanent and we need to start remembering that and adapting to it.

    I’m not saying that we should always be wary of what we’re saying, but I think sometimes people could stand to be a bit smarter about it.

    Would I say in front of my boss that I hate his face? No. But would I say it in front of my friends? Maybe.
    Would I yell out bomb in an airport where everyone can hear? No. But would I do it in a much more private place where people know I’m joking? Maybe.
    There’s a big difference in both of these places in real life and the internet is the same.

    That’s my thoughts on all this anyways.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  4. Great post, Brian–this calls attention to the gray area of social media expression as it trickles into people’s real lives and into the workplace. I agree with must of the previous posts that there are plenty of points of contention on these issues. I know have a differing point of view from HR because of my perspective in corporate communications. That’s what most of this boils down to–what perspective you are viewing these communications tools from and who ulitmately makes the rules/laws to “govern” them.

    The sad fact is that common sense often does not win out in many cases. People forget that their words and actions are public even through their personal networks and social media interactions. My employer could be reading my comment to this post as we speak! Does that mean I should self-censor my thoughts and opinions as they contribute to a valid discussion? Maybe I wouldn’t, but someone else in a similar situation might do so. The resposibility lies within the individual but as rules and regulations are passed, it may slowly erode at the core of those expressions. Interesting food for thought…

  5. I think far too many people fail to grasp how long this information will live after they post it. The Library of Congress is archiving tweets. While it may be the modern day or digital version of the water cooler what you said at the water cooler ended there, HR couldn’t go back and search a database of water cooler comments at your next performance review. I now tend to think long and hard about times when I want to vent on Twitter or even Facebook (and I have tweaked my privacy settings). I think this will just be another thing that people will need to learn to live with, like surveillance cameras in the workplace.

  6. Priority PR says:

    I’m torn over this one. Although I agree that there shouldn’t be a big government clamping down on Tweet content, the case with Paul Chambers is frustrating. Firstly, I don’t really see what is funny about saying you will blow up a airport (although this is a matter of taste so I shouldn’t really say that) and secondly, don’t we all know that there are certain ‘no go areas?’

    If Paul Chambers was doing a standup comedy show I doubt that anyone would really complain. But he was an unknown person shooting out a angry Tweet threatening to blow up an airport. If social media is more about the conversation than the tools of which it uses (in this case, Twitter) then we must be judged the same was as he had said that in person, in the real world?

    Yes the First Amendment protects US citizens from government interference, but that is no excuse to abandon common sense. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

    That said, I think the government made a right ol’ hash of it. It would of been better for them to express that although they can’t stop people from saying ‘jokes’ like this, people should understand that they have to take these things seriously so ‘please don’t joke about blowing up airports because we will have to investigate.’

  7. The story you cite in your post has more to do with the machinations of our Federal Mafia than any sane interpretation of our 1st Amendment in the context of social media. I agree with Dave, the poster below, who says “Our freedom of speech exists for a reason, and any effort to quell it should be challenged at every opportunity.” Protecting our freedoms is the duty of every man woman and child in the States, not just our men at arms.

  8. The story you cite in your post has more to do with the machinations of our Federal Mafia than any sane interpretation of our 1st Amendment in the context of social media. I agree with Dave, the poster below, who says “Our freedom of speech exists for a reason, and any effort to quell it should be challenged at every opportunity.” Protecting our freedoms is the duty of every man woman and child in the States, not just our men at arms.

  9. The story you cite in your post has more to do with the machinations of our Federal Mafia than any sane interpretation of our 1st Amendment in the context of social media. I agree with Dave, the poster below, who says “Our freedom of speech exists for a reason, and any effort to quell it should be challenged at every opportunity.” Protecting our freedoms is the duty of every man woman and child in the States, not just our men at arms.

  10. By the way, the next time I hear the “Fire in the crowded room” comment I’m going to digitally punch the poster in the face.

  11. By the way, the next time I hear the “Fire in the crowded room” comment I’m going to digitally punch the poster in the face.

  12. By the way, the next time I hear the “Fire in the crowded room” comment I’m going to digitally punch the poster in the face.

  13. Excellent commentary on this legal aspect where folks are treading what seem to be gray areas. I appreciated your turn of words when describing both the ‘egosystem’ and ‘statusphere’. This is exactly what gets us in trouble, no? Our asserting that something is “my right” instead of first considering the repercussions of the words uttered. Whether it is in our private lives or public ones, the words we say can inflict wounds like a stab and even if we remove the knife, the bleeding injury is there. Context as well as content have always mattered.

  14. Jason Mikula says:

    I see that others have already expounded on this point below, so I’ll make my point quick-

    While the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech (or specifically, guarantees that Congress will make no law abridging freedom of speech), that right is not absolute.

    Ken pointed out the popular misquoting of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s quote from Schenck vs. United States (should read “FALSELY shouting fire in a crowded theater”.)

    In the case quoted, Schenck was suing the U.S. for abridging his freedom of speech because he was arrested for posting anti-draft literature during World War I. The verdict in Schenck vs. United States? The court ruled unanimously AGAINST Schenck and for the U.S., arguing that Schenck’s action posed a “clear and present danger”.

    Of course, this case was overturned by 1969’s Brandenburg vs. Ohio (the current precedent on this matter) – that case found the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to incite IMMINENT lawless action.

    Is this the case for our Twitterer? Doubt it. But we live in a post-9/11 world.

  15. Interesting post, great insight thanks for posting.

  16. Social media is exposing the gray area of freedom of speech. Nothing is completely private and 140-characters can often be taken out of context. And we also leave a digital footprint. We need to be mindful of what we say and where we say it until the legal and employment areas have caught up with social media.

  17. scottmonty says:

    One thing I think many people – including those who banded together to support Paul Chambers – are forgetting is that at the end of the film, rather than just punish Spartacus, the Roman legions crucified the entire slave population involved in the revolt. :-/

  18. scottmonty says:

    One thing I think many people – including those who banded together to support Paul Chambers – are forgetting is that at the end of the film, rather than just punish Spartacus, the Roman legions crucified the entire slave population involved in the revolt. :-/

  19. “We must realize that what we think we’re saying might not convey as desired. There’s a difference between what we say and what is heard.”

    It does not surprise me much that the tweet I wrote that got the most response and discussion this week was on the difference between ‘imply’ and ‘infer’… Sometimes language stands in the way of expressing our real intent. Unfortunately, we are now in the land of “no, you said X, so you clearly *meant* Y” culpability.

    Social media will have one of the biggest impacts on language of any event in the last few centuries. It’s the 21st century equivalent of the Gutenberg press.

    • briansolis says:

      Lucretia, exactly. Very well put. Be mindful…write for what you want people to hear…take the extra steps in an exchange where context is precious.

    • briansolis says:

      Lucretia, exactly. Very well put. Be mindful…write for what you want people to hear…take the extra steps in an exchange where context is precious.

  20. WOW, ok I lose it sometimes and want to say thing via twitter but even I know you can NOT make a bomb threat and expect to be protected by first amendment joke or no joke.

    Two, man we need to lighten up folks. Whether it is archived by library of congress or not, how about we stop being so either /or all the time. It is as simple as asking “What was your intention as I am not sure?”

    Three, it is very hypocritical for companies to say they embrace social media then not realize if there are any bad feelings inside their walls _THEY NEED TO KNOW _ and then be proactive to find a solution. Firing someone only makes me think you have something to hide and if that’s how you treat your employees then how will you treat me a customer.

  21. Jordan Parsons says:

    I definitely appreciate this, it makes you think long and hard before you just babble the first thing on your mind, all over the internet. The Chambers case seems very significant to me. I know many of us have been in the situation where you post something and then later say, “what was I thinking?,” but at the same time, Chambers is a grown man who should know with the day and time in which we live that joking about a bombing is just not acceptable. I also agree with what has already been stated about companies saying they back and encourage social media but then punishing, or even extinguishing employees for expressing themselves through social media avenues.

    It seems that social media could still be qualified as a ‘new thing’ and it will take time for the world to adapt and figure out the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not, if we ever figure it out.
    Jordan Parsons
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  22. KT says:

    Ok, first off I want to start with just a simple statement. I am tired of everyone using the 1st amendment as their excuse for every dumb thing they say! There I said it. Now, as far as the Paul Chambers case goes, no you cannot threaten bombing an airport in any way (have we not all seen Meet the parents?). Mr. Chambers is an adult & a professional and should know better. Anonymity went out the door with Social Media/Networks. Whatever you say can easily be traced to you via your username, real name, profile, etc. (obviously everyone has forgotten the South Park episode where the characters do a total background check on another kid via social networks). As far as the legal repercussions he is now facing, someone has to be the example. Sorry it was you Mr. Chambers.

    Yes it is a rude awakening to us all. I know as a manager I have used public court records, Facebook, MySpace, and Google for background checking potential employees. In this day and age the technology is available so I use it. People seem to forget that if you put it out there, it can be found. Again, anonymity is gone. Any thing you post on the internet is like introducing yourself to anyone that finds your stuff. And it all goes back to the “First Impression” rule, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.

    I understand the concept that you should be able to spout off and express yourself freely, but remember some simple rules before you leave your words for everyone to read. #1 If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all. #2 Anything you say can and will be used against you.

    Katherine Sutherland
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Arts & Sciences

  23. Madison says:

    Yet again, another thought-provoking post!

    I like what Antonio said in his comment about maintaining our online reputations. I’ve been told that if you don’t want your boss to see the pictures on Facebook, then you probably shouldn’t do it in the first place. Social Media is becoming less personal and more professional as time goes on, so it is even more important to filter what we are posting on our sites. Brian is completely right when he says that college admission officers and Human Resource departments are screening candidates by looking at their Facebook sites. To know that I could loose a job opportunity because of a picture that was taken at a party several years ago makes me think twice about what I post and what activities I participate in.

    As far as freedom of speech in regards to social media outlets, I think we should be able to say whatever we want…BUT we have to be willing to accept the consequences when it offends someone. The discrepency between intention and context has been an issue since before the rise of Twitter and Facebook. I’ve sent many text messages to friends that have been taken the wrong way and have been taken as an insult when I really meant it as a joke. When the discrepency is between two people, the problem can be solved and forgotten about. However, when the discrepency is worldwide, a solution that can please everybody is almost impossible to find and it can tarnish one’s reputation.

    If censoring is too difficult, the best solution is to do what Antonio said in his comment, adjust privacy settings and create a professional blog and LinkedIn account to distract people from the things that your boss won’t appreciate.

    Madison Longust
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  24. Madison says:

    Yet again, another thought-provoking post!

    I like what Antonio said in his comment about maintaining our online reputations. I’ve been told that if you don’t want your boss to see the pictures on Facebook, then you probably shouldn’t do it in the first place. Social Media is becoming less personal and more professional as time goes on, so it is even more important to filter what we are posting on our sites. Brian is completely right when he says that college admission officers and Human Resource departments are screening candidates by looking at their Facebook sites. To know that I could loose a job opportunity because of a picture that was taken at a party several years ago makes me think twice about what I post and what activities I participate in.

    As far as freedom of speech in regards to social media outlets, I think we should be able to say whatever we want…BUT we have to be willing to accept the consequences when it offends someone. The discrepency between intention and context has been an issue since before the rise of Twitter and Facebook. I’ve sent many text messages to friends that have been taken the wrong way and have been taken as an insult when I really meant it as a joke. When the discrepency is between two people, the problem can be solved and forgotten about. However, when the discrepency is worldwide, a solution that can please everybody is almost impossible to find and it can tarnish one’s reputation.

    If censoring is too difficult, the best solution is to do what Antonio said in his comment, adjust privacy settings and create a professional blog and LinkedIn account to distract people from the things that your boss won’t appreciate.

    Madison Longust
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  25. Ltaylornixon says:

    Great post.

    The reaching laws are good–for the time being. Too much law is always better than lawless. However, it is such a new thing, this social media, that our legal system is not adequately equipped to handle these situations. At the time of the laws’ foundations, nothing like social media had ever been seen.

    For a totally different, new and separate reality, I believe it should be governed by a separate set of laws.

    If we took this “law” of applying something irrelevant to what we know best, we’d see things like peanut butter and turkey sandwiches, and driving with blindfolds on daily basis–if you get my drift.

    Simple and straight forward, a new reality deserves new rules.

    Thanks again for the post.

    L. Taylor Nixon
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications
    @ltnixon

  26. Ltaylornixon says:

    Great post.

    The reaching laws are good–for the time being. Too much law is always better than lawless. However, it is such a new thing, this social media, that our legal system is not adequately equipped to handle these situations. At the time of the laws’ foundations, nothing like social media had ever been seen.

    For a totally different, new and separate reality, I believe it should be governed by a separate set of laws.

    If we took this “law” of applying something irrelevant to what we know best, we’d see things like peanut butter and turkey sandwiches, and driving with blindfolds on daily basis–if you get my drift.

    Simple and straight forward, a new reality deserves new rules.

    Thanks again for the post.

    L. Taylor Nixon
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications
    @ltnixon

  27. Stephanie Rowe says:

    I like Chris’ response to social media being the digital version of a water cooler. When people talk at the water cooler, only those people who were at the water cooler actually know what was said. Unless someone tapes the conversation, it is really hard to prove who participated in the conversation and what was said. When you post something on Facebook or Twitter, just about anyone can find out what was said. It can also be printed out very easily to be used against you at a later date.

    I would like to think that nothing that I post on a social media site can be used against me, but in reality, I know that isn’t true. I always try to be careful about what I post because I don’t want something that took two seconds to post to haunt me for the rest of my life. I haven’t seen people lose their job over posting something inappropriate about their boss or the company, but I have seen them written up for it, and I agree with them being written up for it. Take responsibility for what you post on social media sites.

    Stephanie Rowe
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  28. Stephanie Rowe says:

    I like Chris’ response to social media being the digital version of a water cooler. When people talk at the water cooler, only those people who were at the water cooler actually know what was said. Unless someone tapes the conversation, it is really hard to prove who participated in the conversation and what was said. When you post something on Facebook or Twitter, just about anyone can find out what was said. It can also be printed out very easily to be used against you at a later date.

    I would like to think that nothing that I post on a social media site can be used against me, but in reality, I know that isn’t true. I always try to be careful about what I post because I don’t want something that took two seconds to post to haunt me for the rest of my life. I haven’t seen people lose their job over posting something inappropriate about their boss or the company, but I have seen them written up for it, and I agree with them being written up for it. Take responsibility for what you post on social media sites.

    Stephanie Rowe
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  29. Rylie says:

    After reading this, I thought about what I posted on another article about why I keep up with Facebook. But after reading this I’ve decided that after I graduate college, the best approach would probably be to delete my Facebook. I have a Twitter account but I rarely ever post anything personal on there. I would hate to lose a job or not be offered a certain job because of something that I did years ago when I was younger and clearly had no idea what I was doing. Facebook is definitely taking a turn in a more professional direction. I’d love to be a part of it in terms of working for a company and using the social media for business purposes only. But personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. If anything, it’s dangerous and not something I want to be caught up in. In a sense, it’s sad that it’s come to this, but it has. I think we all knew from the start that the internet held no privacy whether you click the “private” button on your blog or not, someone will find it and see it. They have specialists that do that.

    Rylie Burns
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  30. Paige Pantlik says:

    I have seen many people have jobs and scholarships taken away from them due to what they have posted on facebook and twitter. I personally don’t want people to know everything about me from facebook or twitter, I think it sometimes looks desperate and that somehow your status update is a depiction of the person you are. I think that having the intelligence to keep your profile private and monitor what is being tagged of you, it shows more of the person you are.
    On my facebook account, if your aren’t my friend you can’t see anything and if you are my friend you can only see certain photo albums and you can’t see my tagged pictures. Even though I am not worried about inappropriate content, I don’t want to risk anything, especially my credibiltiy because you can’t earn that back.

    Paige Pantlik
    Oklahoma State University
    Strategic Communications

  31. Joshua Coffman says:

    Why Can’t you say bomb on an airplane? Bomb, Bomb, Bomb!

    Haha but seriously great points made in this article. Yes I believe that the web is the ultimate forum but its also has been the sewage plant for the world to spill out a lot of garbage. What happened to Chambers is unfortunate and his prosecution makes the whole situation seem that much more ridiculous. Still people need to be careful about what they say on the web. A screen and a wireless connection doesn’t insulate someone completely from the law of the land or public criticism. Hopefully though what happened to Chambers won’t happen again.
    I know people who have not been hired and one that has been fired because of social media. The angriest of course was the guy I know that was fired because of his online criticisms of the company he worked for and in my opinion rightly so. He’s my friend but he should have known better. Anything that you put on the web can and will be used against you by employers.

    Joshua Coffman
    Strategic Communications
    Oklahoma State University

  32. Sarah King says:

    Although we have a freedom to say what we want on social network sites, we are still responsible for the things we post. It may be that things such as yelling fire in a theatre are against social norms in a sense, and we know employers look at our sites and though it may seem a wrong for them to raise concers what we post as public material even to other employees is public to everyone. Is firing for a comment to much? yes, and I doubt many people took Chambers tweet as a threat however if you saw something about someone wanting to gun down someone or blow something up especailly today with an airport, somethings are better left unsaid.

    Sarah King
    Oklahoma State University
    Strategic Communications

  33. Greta Gray says:

    Greta Gray
    Strategic Communications
    Oklahoma State University

    This was a great post and it’s definately something that we have to think about as users of social media. Sometimes it seems as though the issue of privacy in social media is blown out of proportion, but obviously it is something that can come back to bite us if we’re not careful about what we say. The question is, where is the line drawn between just opinion and saying so much that it affects you negatively?

    I personally regulate what I tweet because I have followers that could someday be employers, references or connections. I also “cleaned up” my Facebook when a possible employer asked me to add him on Facebook. It is hard to seperate my “professional self” from my “actual self”, but I don’t think that anything I’ve ever tweeted could affect me legally. I have thought about the fact that as a christian, I do often post faith related things, and I wonder if that would cause other people to form opinions about me, and if that would hurt me in my job search.
    It’s unfortunate that I even have to think of those things, but it’s just a part of life now.

    I understand that companies want to know what their employees’ online presence is, but just because we have social media now, I think that employees deserve to have a private life. Employers need to respect that boundary and employees shouldn’t feel that they have to tip toe around in fear of losing their job.

    I love what Dave said (“If we consign ourselves to always hiding our true feelings and creeping around in the dead of night to bury our passions and convictions, we don’t deserve the freedoms so many have fought and died for.”) and I think that we should be able to give our true opinions.

    • briansolis says:

      Greta, I have to say, that I do love this comment. What you express here is what we all, regardless of stature in society, need to embrace. But what works against us, also works for us…

  34. Lauren K says:

    You bring up important issues in this article that everyone should be aware of so cheers to you! I learned in a social media class lecture that in a sense “you are what you tweet.” Whether posting a new tweet or adding new pictures to Facebook and Flickr, the information you choose to put online does and will reflect your personal brand. This is especially important if you are following future employers and job connections. It is safe to say that we always try to make good impressions on others and the reality of it is in the online world you can easily kill your credibility to others by posting a simple tweet without thinking “could this hurt me in the long run?”
    In regards to Greta’s post, I agree that people in the work world should have the right to a private life in social media, however when employees talk negatively about their respective company and fellow employers I think it is totally appropriate for the company to get involved. Not only does it look poorly on the person saying negative things, it reflects the company as well.

    Lauren Kempf
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications
    @laurenkempf

    • briansolis says:

      Lauren, first of all, thank you. What a thoughtful comment. Second, you have a great mentor…

      This post is honestly more important to our society than it receives credit and it’s something we must embody and also spread to others. I think it requires more of us than them.

  35. Anna Smith says:

    Historically the First Amendment is a right, but not an absolute one. People are held reliable for what they say, and if it causes harm in varying degrees, it is punishable by law. Just as it is punishable, it is also protected. It’s very interesting how the law regarding social media and the internet in general is building in present time. Legal cases revolving around Web site comments and postings are becoming common, a threat to users to realize that there is no anonymity anymore. The case regarding the woman being fired from denouncing the company on Facebook is a classic example of the chilling effect. For those who don’t know, this is when a social group is silenced due to fear of punishment. This is detrimental to society because it stops the free flow of ideas, and allows wrong-doers to remain in control. That woman had the right to voice her opinion. If she disliked her job so much, maybe it was better for herself and the company for her to be released, but that is neither her nor there. The classic rule keeps circling in my head: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just listen to that little voice in your head when posting content online, it most likely will keep you out of trouble.

    Anna Smith
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications
    @MissAnnaLynn

  36. Michael Dozzi says:

    It was crazy to see the consequences a single tweet has the potential to lead to. I had no idea that action like that would be taken after an innocent tweet. It makes sense as to why Chambers’ tweet would have those consequences; however, who knew you should really ‘watch what you tweet.’ I now feel the need to be more aware of what I tweet and how it could be read.

    Yes, I do believe we should maintain the right to say whatever we want. But I guess, unlike Chambers, we better be ready for what’s to come if that tweet is taken the wrong way. Think before you tweet is my new motto. The tricky thing about text is that you often can’t tell the context of manner of how something is being sad. There is no sarcasm, sad, happy, angry or even ‘joking’ font; therefore, our text can be read in many ways because you can’t hear it being said by the person saying it. This is exactly where the problem lies, and I’m sure Chambers’ wished there would have been a ‘joking’ font that day of his ‘mis-tweet.’

    Back to the real issue at hand, how to maintain professionalism in the social media world. This is something me and a lot of my friends have to deal with right now. It’s about that time where we are starting to apply for jobs and have to make sure we are looking like good candidates both in person and online. It’s important that we either adjust the privacy settings or keep such sites as Facebook ‘clean’ and appealing to potential employers. Your article simply reminded me of how important this is! Thank you!

    Michael Dozzi
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  37. Samantha Wilson says:

    This was such a great post to read. Often, I’ve found myself wondering why people post so many absurd things on social media sites. People will judge others based off what they put on Facebook and Twitter, a fact many seem to ignore. Chambers provides the perfect example for this. He tweeted that to be funny, but it was stupid to tweet it in the first place. Yes, we have the freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean you can go around threatening to blow up an airport, even if it’s meant as a joke.

    I’m very careful with what I put on Facebook and Twitter because of future job opportunities. I want to be seen as a professional person, not some silly college kid. I don’t want employers to not pick me for a job based off my Facebook status. I can understand that both Facebook and Twitter allow people the space to rant. At the same time I don’t understand why they would broadcast something inappropriate about their employers or friends on a site where anyone can read it. If they really wanted to say something bad about an employee in the first place, why would they bother adding them as a friend? Also, why don’t people set up the proper privacy settings so that certain people can’t read certain things? It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the cases pertaining to this problem, but people need to think before they hit the update button.

    Samantha Wilson
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  38. Chelsea McGuire says:

    Thanks so much for this post.
    It is a sign of the times and definitely something that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to look into in the near future. There is already an act (The Communication Decency Act) that protects Twitter and Facebook from libel lawsuits based on user-generated content.
    I am 24 and I learned the hard way that things in writing can be taken many ways (sometimes far from what you intended) and that once you say things on the internet, it is out in the open on the internet. I remember getting in fights with friends in high school about things said on AIM and YIM that were taken wrong. I also remember friends posting blogs on Xanga and LiveJournal about their bosses and they were soon fired for their comments. I think with the way social media has grown we have had to learn how to read people’s comments and statuses to understand the true meaning. But this is still a challenge. Our generation is learning the lessons that will be future social etiquette for future generations.
    It will be interesting to see how much commentary we can get away with in the future and were the laws of libel, defamation, false light and public disclosure will end up.
    Chelsea McGuire
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  39. Chelsea McGuire says:

    Thanks so much for this post.
    It is a sign of the times and definitely something that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to look into in the near future. There is already an act (The Communication Decency Act) that protects Twitter and Facebook from libel lawsuits based on user-generated content.
    I am 24 and I learned the hard way that things in writing can be taken many ways (sometimes far from what you intended) and that once you say things on the internet, it is out in the open on the internet. I remember getting in fights with friends in high school about things said on AIM and YIM that were taken wrong. I also remember friends posting blogs on Xanga and LiveJournal about their bosses and they were soon fired for their comments. I think with the way social media has grown we have had to learn how to read people’s comments and statuses to understand the true meaning. But this is still a challenge. Our generation is learning the lessons that will be future social etiquette for future generations.
    It will be interesting to see how much commentary we can get away with in the future and were the laws of libel, defamation, false light and public disclosure will end up.
    Chelsea McGuire
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  40. Samantha Powell says:

    This was a great post! I enjoyed reading. I think this topic will become more and more important in the years to come.

    I constantly witness Facebook and Twitter users posting ridiculous comments and don’t understand why they would say anything like that! I know these people well enough to know that they wouldn’t say anything like this to people’s faces so why on earth do they post it to a social media site for the whole world to see?

    I think Chelsea McGuire made a great point when she said that the U.S. Supreme Court will be focusing on this in the near future. I also was unaware of the Communication Decency Act. I am glad that Facebook and Twitter have this act in place, because I think it is vital in order to protect themselves.

    It will be very interesting to see how court cases over social media and comments posted on them will turn out.

    Samantha Powell
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  41. Samantha McWilliams says:

    Like Greta said, we shouldn’t have to tip toe around in fear of being fired. Some social media sites, Facebook in particular, can act as a “house” where we can post what we want and say what we want based on the our discretion, while moderating who comes in and out our door. It’s typically not professional to invite your boss over to your house anyway—unless for a special occasion. That’s personally, how I will be keeping my Facebook. What I do with my personal life is none of their business, and should be allowed to be kept private. I understand many people use Facebook for networking, but there are flexible privacy settings that Facebook provides, making it easy to moderate who sees what.

    “With freedom comes responsibility,” and like you said “with social media comes great responsibility.” Even with the privacy mentioned above, at the end of the day we are responsible for everything we do and say, no matter who sees it. My motto for the online and offline world, “don’t say anything you wouldn’t want said back to you.”

    Great article.

    Samantha McWilliams
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications

  42. Tamera Davis says:

    It is unfortunate that Chambers was convicted for Tweeting a joke that got taken out of context. While he was only joking the judge was correct in saying that other people could take that out of context and think there was harm or a reason to worry. There is such a fine line in Freedom of Speech and what you can not say online. Yes, every one is free to speak as they want to and are able to say what they want, but it seems as though when you put in online for anyone and every one to read then you have to be a lot more careful about what you say.

    Like Greta said below, I try to filter my timeline and follow people that are necessary, so that when future employers and future networking contacts look at my Twitter they will not get the wrong idea. Not that I say rude or use a lot of profanity or negativity, but some things that I may say jokingly, my future employers and contacts may not understand or see it as a joke. I try to keep my Facebook filtered as well, because I do not want future employers to get the wrong idea when they see certain pictures or posts.

    I understand that the First Amendment gives you the freedom to say what you want, but you still have to be careful about the things you say, especially when they are online for everyone to see. Twitter and Facebook is not your own personal diary that you can be assured no one will ever see, they are websites that many people have access to. You do not know who might be reading what you put, and if you Tweet something that could cause harm or worry to someone or something, when you meant it as a joke, then you may be convicted like Chambers was.

    Good article.

    Tamera Davis
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications

  43. This is an interesting post that opens the door for a controversial debate.
    My opinion toward the freedom of tweets is that while the issue is being debated a certain rule of common sense should be applied. Although I am a college student, I refuse to tweet any profanity or derogatory comments, even if vital to the “observation” because I eventually seek a future in public relations. I see the airport tweet as unnecessary and in poor taste but it was not directed at me nor was it my tweet so I don’t have much say in the matter; thankfully I don’t have responsibility over the tweet either. Legal or not I always consider if my observation appropriate for twitter is appropriate for my grandmother.
    My point is that you will never see this:
    “coleyearwood – #fire! #nowplaying yogi bear @carmike”

    Justin Yearwood
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

  44. Kim Duncan says:

    I think that so many people my age (18-30) are upset that they should have to monitor what they say and do on the Internet. I used to be that way- if it’s MY facebook and MY twitter, then i should be allowed to say whatever i want, right? well, in some ways, yes. i can post whatever i want- the problem is, i need to be ready to take responsibility for what i say. yes, there are privacy settings on Facebook & Twitter but most companies have a way of getting around it. A part of me still thinks that some things should be kept private but unfortunately in this day and age and especially with how social media is growing, nothing is really private anymore.

    Basically, if you put it out on the Internet, you need to be prepared for anyone and everyone to see it. I don’t post anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t want my parents to read- it also helps that my parents are on Facebook! I know that there is the Freedom of Speech, but like Anna said, it’s not absolute. You still have to take responsibility for your words and actions. If tweeting about how drunk you got last night is worth losing a potential job over, then so be it. But with the way technology is going, pretty soon there won’t be privacy settings strict enough to keep everyone out.

    Think before you tweet everyone!
    Kim Duncan
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media & Strategic Communications

  45. Jessica Ann Green says:

    The first time I heard about people getting punished for posts on Facebook or Twitter was when my brother’s high school decided to make an example out of a student that didn’t appreciate his math teacher. The post didn’t include profanity, just a general dislike for the teacher based on a grade. The school decided to take posts on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter a serious wrongdoing if the content pertained to faculty, other students, or the school in general. I think censoring ourselves because others may not agree with what we have to say is an injustice to our First Amendment. With that said I agree threatening a person in a bullying harassing way is wrong and should be dealt with. Bullying, especially in grade school and higher can be very detrimental to a person. Other than keeping things polite in the sense people don’t attack others personally, people should be free to post what they want. Idle threats that are posted in the heat of emotion shouldn’t be held against people, but Paul Chambers what were you thinking? Most would probably assume Paul wasn’t serious, but at the very least most people who post or tweet know airports + violence = you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. I always try to think what others will think before I hit the send button, but I have to admit there are just sometimes when I can’t resist. It just feels too good to say exactly what’s on my mind, and for that I don’t apologize.

    Jessica Green
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  46. Weston Shepherd says:

    Weston Shepherd
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

    I like the concept of the “First Amendment of Social Media” but just like anything else, there are shades of gray in all of this. I have the right to post as I please, Tweet as I please, etc., but the second that I say too much, post the wrong picture, so on and so forth–I take my professional career into jeapordy.

    You have rights, of course. But someone else has the power when people lose jobs over Facebook content. It happens and often times, rightfully so, but how much protection do we have actually have?

  47. Weston Shepherd says:

    Weston Shepherd
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

    I like the concept of the “First Amendment of Social Media” but just like anything else, there are shades of gray in all of this. I have the right to post as I please, Tweet as I please, etc., but the second that I say too much, post the wrong picture, so on and so forth–I take my professional career into jeapordy.

    You have rights, of course. But someone else has the power when people lose jobs over Facebook content. It happens and often times, rightfully so, but how much protection do we have actually have?

  48. Along the lines of what my classmates Sara King and Kim Duncan have posted, I also see responsibility as an important aspect of our lives online. Anyone who wishes to be taken seriously as a person must realize they will be held responsible for hitting that “send” button. The same is true of real life conversations. You don’t really know who is listening and what they will do with the information and opinions you release into the air or cyberspace. But when putting it into words, typed or spoken, you must recognize and decide if you want to be connected to that statement forever, no matter what happens. Yes you have rights, and if you are going to fight for them, then be ready to face the consequences good or bad.

    It’s true offline, and it’s true online. So it will be interesting to see how the National Labor Board’s case will pan out.

    Heather Spencer
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Architecture

  49. Rgdean says:

    Context is an elusive concept in regards to social media. I equate tweets, status updates, and other things of that nature as the online version of coming into a conversation among friends that you were not a part of. Some are broad, some are generic, some are inside jokes, and some conversations that you randomly engage in shock you. It’s an old cliche about coming into a conversation at the wrong time. Without context, the content can be misconstrued and absolutely present the wrong impression. Such was the case with Mr. Chambers. In this world of one sentence summing up our entire experience from something, or our thoughts or feelings, it is important to remember the importance of caution and prudence.

    I try to self-police myself by reminding myself that an irresponsible comment to a person is foolish and can’t be unsaid. By that same token, once an irresponsible tweet, comment, status, etc. is posted, it is very hard to retrieve that thought.

    Greg Dean
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

  50. Kylie Paul says:

    I would like to start by saying I respectfully disagree with Ken’s opinion on the Paul Chambers case. Many people are aware of the ruling in Schneck v. United States where dangerous (and therefore illegal) speech was described as something akin to shouting fire in a crowded theatre. in my opinion, what Mr. Chambers did was nothing like this. I think almost everyone has said something similar to that in times of great frustration. I know I have! Obviously it wasn’t in good taste to tweet about it, but since when do people go to court for doing something in bad taste? It should have been obvious that this man did not pose any real threat, if he had really planned on doing this I doubt he would have posted this on Twitter. I think this story is a great example of how America has changed post-9/11. In the age of wire tapping and the like, many believe you can never be too cautious.

    A great point that I think the article made was that “social media erodes our filter.” I agree with Samantha, sometimes I can not believe the things people post on Facebook and Twitter! I think social media has become so ingrained in us that it has become almost the norm to use it as a place to air your dirty laundry about a recent break-up or fight with a friend or to post any thought that pops into your head, whether it be appropriate for public viewing or not. Obviously, many need to learn where to draw the line when it comes to posting things online. An inappropriate post or picture could cost you an internship or job aka your future.

  51. Sarah West says:

    When facebook first started out mostly as college students you could pretty much say whatever you wanted. As the years have progressed and more people have become part of facebook the less you can say on the Internet. I think that it is not fair that you should have to be so careful what you say on your facebook but at the same time if you know you are friends with your boss or that your profile is not private than you should be smart enough to watch what you say, this is common sense.
    As far as text being taken in the wrong way, this is something that happens quite frequently. Even in my everyday texting there are many times when the person I am texting does not understand my attitude or tone of voice of the context of the message. I think that this is just something that is very hard to deal with and once again as twitter has evolved it is something that you have to think about before you send it as a text. You have to think about all the different ways people could translate what you are saying and while this might be difficult it is something we have to watch out for. It in a way comes back to the old saying “if you cant say anything nice than don’t say anything at all” because if its not nice than it is probably going to get back to that person that you were talking about. It will probably get there if it is something nice too but then it wouldn’t really be a bad thing so it doesn’t matter really.

    Sarah West
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

  52. Jordan Griffis says:

    It amazes me that in almost 2011 people still don’t know how to use discernment on the Internet. I remember when I first used facebook as a college freshman/sophomore or so, I would say and write EVERYTHING. As the years have gone on, social media has exploded and I’ve become friends with all these people (moms, former Sunday school teachers, employers, EVERYBODY) that make me want to keep my facebook pretty censored.
    If it’s your social media account, it’s your responsibility. Maybe that’s not 100 percent fair that you don’t get to say EVERYTHING you want online but I just don’t think it’s encroaching on your right to free speech too much to keep an eye on your fb wall. Get an anonymous blog if you have that much of a need to confess your incriminating behavior.
    I always just think: know that if you put it in the internet, it’s going to come back to haunt you. That’s life, be a grownup. I know there’s a lot of gray area in the this debate, so you better err on the side of safety if you ever want a job. How hard is it to just be professional?
    Jordan Griffis
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communications

  53. Gant Lee says:

    Gant Lee
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Strategic Communications

    I agree with Lauren K.

    I think that people should be allowed to have a life on social media outlets that is absolutely separate from their work. That said, I do believe that companies should intervene when it DOES involve them. And I think the government should get involved when it is an issue of security. The instance in which Paul Chambers said he would “blow the airport sky high” is inexcusable. That is a direct threat. If you’re angry, use a better choice of words. But you can’t post something like that FOR EVERYONE TO SEE and not expect to be punished. You may be alone behind a computer screen, but that does not mean you are anonymous and no longer have an identity. What a terrible idea…

  54. Al Michaels says:

    Great find thanks for sharing. Not sure I can agree with most, but good arguments none the less.

  55. Becca Brooks says:

    “Think before you tweet” should be a mandated law, obviously. Chambers’ comment is muttered by thousands of travelers daily, but he is biting his tongue (or thumbs) for broadcasting this death wish on Twitter. I feel sorry for Chambers, because he is not the only one to ever wish and type such a hateful joke online.

    Joke is the keyword, because most of the time people don’t mean 100% what they say in their status updates or tweets. This is another topic of its own, but one that concerns me. Why have a Twitter/Facebook/Internet at all if you aren’t going to be yourself? Sometimes Facebook seems like a place for people to be someone they are not. Hopefully someday it will be an honest reflection of a person, although you can’t completely know someone from viewing their website.

    Becca Brooks
    Oklahoma State University
    School of Media and Strategic Communication

  56. Jess Williams says:

    so is social media protected by the first amendment? was the first amendment established only for our congress. with today society where do the lines cross from public to private? can I not say for instance fuck the police on my Facebook page with out worry of consequences? can I not assemble a petition on my Facebook page and then have it protected under the 1st amendment? can Facebook take down a post that is religious of politically
    associated?

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