In today’s digital world of smart phones, the internet, and social networking, people no longer have to put pen to paper in order to let their feelings be known about a particular issue. Consequently, once you hit the “send” or “post” key and the message goes out into cyberspace, it’s the equivalent of squeezing the trigger on a firearm; you can’t undo your actions and get that message back.
Herein lies what is rapidly becoming a significant issue for many in the law enforcement profession, who express their opinions through social media forums such as Twitter and Facebook and media upload sites like YouTube. What constitutes free speech? What exactly can you say and what kind of pictures or videos can you post without violating department policy?
On September 18, 2013, a small victory was won in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of Bland vs. Roberts, which involved deputy sheriffs who were fired for “liking” the page of an opponent running in an election campaign against the incumbent sheriff.
CLICK HERE to read the announcement from NAPO.
While this is a win for the deputy who was fired, keep in mind that there is a fine line between what is protected speech and what is not, especially as a public servant. There are plenty of uncharted waters in what is essentially a gray area with limited case law. For those of you who do use Facebook, make sure that you are aware of the Department’s social media policy and be careful of what you post on public forums and websites which use the Facebook plug-in.