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Social networking and Privacy around the world

May 26, 2011

As a somewhat new American, I get annoyed when people don’t understand the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Where people make the mistake is in the details. For example, you do not have the first amendment right to reveal employer secrets on Facebook. You cannot write about clients or projects that aren’t public. If you did such a thing, and your employer terminated your contract, that would not be a violation of your First amendment rights.

Indeed, a social media policy is also not a violation of your first amendment rights (in the same way a dress code is not a violation of the first amendment).

If an employer makes a policy, and an employee signs it, the signature is an agreement to adhere to the policy.

I tell you all this because the first amendment does protect content in social media. The government (courts) can’t really stop me from writing about it on Twitter or blogs. Things get a little murkier when talking about other people, but in the US, the first amendment would have applied to this story in the UK about Ryan Giggs.

Here’s a summary:

A soccer star in England has an affair with a reality TV star. He managed to get what’s called a super injuction, stopping all media outlets from naming him as the person having the affair. But then thousands of people on Twitter begin to out him (and break England Law).

Now he’s suing Twitter.

A super injunction is something that doesn’t exist in the US. Which makes it rather tough for Giggs to sue Twitter.

But this also has me thinking: Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites are forcing countries to look at the way they describe speech. In Canada, where I lived before living here, one doesn’t have free speech. A man was arrested for standing on the street corner saying there was no holocaust. Hate speech is illegal in Canada.

I happen to think the best way to combat hate speech and bad behavior is to talk about it. If someone wants to deny something using hateful speech, I think a better solution is engaging with that person. That way, people can see the emptiness of the argument. In a similar vein, if EPL stars want to sleep around, there’s a real rick people will find out, and post it to Twitter.

This is all about living in an open source world. Haters and all.

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