In the United States, we have the right to speak freely about our religious, political, economic or any other “controversial” viewpoints. We are also avid social media users, which makes for an interesting mix of people: having the right to say what they want, and being provided with outlets to let them do so on a national and global level.
Recently, a young student was suspended from Texas Christian University by school officials after posting on Facebook and tweeting questionable responses to the Baltimore riots. After the University responded by stating they didn’t approve of the comments, the student had even more to say.
Is this fair for a university to inflict sanctions on a student who has the right to say whatever he or she desires? It depends. In today’s world, while freedom of speech is a right, it doesn’t necessarily mean immunity from punishment.
Another local incident occurred when a woman tweeted a negative comment about having to start her new job the following day, and then was terminated after her future boss saw the tweet.
The outcomes of these situations are realistic, yet the public still questions the legality. From an employee or student point of view, many feel that whatever they say outside of work or school can’t affect them. Employers or school officials on the other hand, have the ability to make certain decisions, especially when the entity is privately owned.
These situations also become challenging when it comes to public employees such as law enforcement officers and agencies. While public employees maintain equal rights in regards to the First Amendment compared to those who aren’t public employees, “the courts have recognized that the government has considerably more ability as an employer to regulate its employees’ speech than it would simply as a sovereign,” according to Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ultimately, freedom of speech is complex and social media allows for the perfect medium in which users don’t necessarily fear or understand the legal sanctions of their words.