01/16/13 340 W - + 4 - 2 The Prickly Perils of Public Speech

If you're a public employee, you can get fired or disciplined for stuff you say on Facebook. We've seen those headlines for a while now, or at least if you're paying attention. (Now sure how well the younger generations are tuned into the issue of speech, social media, and employment consequences. But that's another discussion...) But what about when you're off-duty? But what if your Facebook profile doesn't identify you as a public employee? But what if you're (a.) and (b.) and (c.) your Facebook profile is private? Only a couple hundred of your "friends" are reading those words, so the situation should be safe, right?

Fire Law blogger Curt Varone takes a terrific look at a situation in Florida, where arbitration is beginning for a Miami Dade Fire Department Captain. Last spring, he posted comments on his Facebook page that drew outrage from community members in the wake of the Trevor Martin shooting. He was demoted to Firefighter, amid calls for his termination. Some interesting facts were revealed in the first hearing on Monday: (a.) he was off-duty, (b.) using his home computer, (c.) using a Facebook account that didn't identify him as a firefighter, (d.) using words that (e.) while offensively (f.) weren't as specific or targeted as presumed, (g.) were posted to a private profile that, (h.) were subsequently released to the world at large by a second fire department member who, (i.) took a screen shot and started the fire. Got that?

What do all those points (and letters) mean? Curt walks through some of the First Amendment issues involved in this case, and in a clean and easily understood manner. Read his posting which is ultimately a bit downbeat. He acknowledges that things are still clear as mud, with regard to social media issues and public speech. What, you say? You mean, you really can get fired or disciplined for off-duty offensive speech and even if it's posted to just a relative few people? Yes, you can.

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