Facebook and the First Amendment

facebookAs a legal student I was and I am a first amendment absolutist. Though I am not an American, I believe every American must cherish and rabidly protect this law. For those non legal readers the first Amendment to the constitution of the United States is part of the Bill of Rights. The first amendment prohibits the making of any law that establishes a state religion, impedes the free exercise of religion, and abridges the freedom of expression. Of particular interest for this article is the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression has been a subject of debate and discussion since the inception of that freedom. Jurists have had a tough time interpreting this freedom in Art, sculpture, and even extended it to the right to offend. The internet for the past few years has become a part of this expression. Social networking has made this all the more complicated. An interesting case has been Bland v Roberts.

Bland and his cohorts worked in the Hampton Sheriff’s Office, under B.J. Roberts. Roberts ran for re-election against Jim Adams, and the plaintiffs were lukewarm in their support of Roberts. In fact, three of the plaintiffs went so far as to “like” Adams’ Facebook page.

Roberts won the election, and he decided to not retain the plaintiffs. He justified the terminations on cost-cutting and budgeting grounds, but plaintiffs argued that their termination violated their First Amendment rights.

The court grants Roberts’ motion for summary judgment stating that facebook could not be included under the preview of the first amendment owing to lack to previous precedent.

According to some interesting observations made by Venkat Balasubramani in Ars Technica, a sarcastic manner that the court is unaware of the robust body of first amendment precedent that states that protection of expression is not limited to actual words. He observes the role facebook has played in the Arab spring and continues to do so in the Syrian conflict. The implications of this case on the inclusion of facebook as another method of expression are yet to be seen.

Facebook and the First Amendment

Arjun Vidhu,
University of Birmingham, UK

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