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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Police Officer Facebook Post Not Protected by First Amendment

A police officer was fired after she posted statements on the mayor's Facebook page that criticized the police chief for not allowing Greenville police officers to use their squad cars to attend the funeral of a police officer of another city who was killed in the line of duty.  After she was terminated, she sued the city, claiming that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her free speech rights under the First Amendment.  We posted previously here about the district court's ruling in favor of the city that the officer's posts were not protected by the First Amendment.  

The officer appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an opinion earlier this month also in favor of the city. Graziosi v. City of Greenville, (5th Cir. January 9, 2015).   Although the appellate court held that the officer was speaking as a citizen, rather than an officer, it found officer's statements not entitled to First amendment protection because her speech was not on a matter of public concern. Her speech, rather, was a rant directed at the chief which involved a dispute over an intra-departmental decision, which is not a matter of public concern.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DEA Settles Lawsuit Relating to Fake Facebook Page

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was sued after it created a Facebook page using information and pictures of a woman in a cocaine case. The DEA had taken pictures and information about the plaintiff from her cellphone after a 2010 arrest and then used the pictures and information to create a fake Facebook page intended to trick her friends into divulging possibly incriminating information. The government argued that the plaintiff "implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in... ongoing criminal investigations."  Nevertheless, the DEA recently agreed to settle the lawsuit for $134,000.  

You can read more about the settlement here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Illinois Cyberbullying Law in Effect

Illinois Public Act 98-0801 just went into effect on January 1, 2015 to expand the state's bullying prevention law to prohibit students from being bullied through online sources, such as Twitter or Facebook, using computers not on school property.  The previous law only applied to cyberbullying during the school day from school-owned computers.  

The new provision allows districts to take action "if the bullying causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school."  This new provision applies "only in cases in which a school administrator or teacher receives a report that bullying through this means has occurred and does not require a district or school to staff or monitor any nonschool-related activity, function, or program."

Many school districts will have to update their bullying policies to incorporate the new law.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

From 4 Common Mistakes in Government Social Media Policies

Check out the new article posted on called "4 Common Mistakes in Government Social Media Policies," written by Kristy Dalton.  The article includes "best practices" for developing a government social media policy by pointing out some common issues that are often overlooked, including the following:

1.  Tone Deaf

The article suggests that governments be careful about the tone of the policy - it recommends that it be helpful, encouraging and optimistic, and to ensure that it not send a message that the agency is opposed to social media.

2.  Excluding Elected Officials

Most social media policies cover government employees, but the article suggests that policies also cover elected officials.  

3.  Dated Upon Rollout

The article notes that policies that specifically name social media platforms may become outdated as new platforms (Snapchat) are introduced so frequently.

4.  Keeping it Under Wraps

According to the article, most agencies do not publish their social media policies - she suggest posting it on the government's website.  At the very least, make sure any part of the policy that addresses public interaction (comment policy, for example) be made public.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Court Overturns Student's Suspension for Social Media Rap Song

An aspiring student rapper posted on Facebook and YouTube a rap song with lyrics that criticized two athletic coaches for sexually harassing female students at his high school.  The song was recorded at a professional studio unaffiliated with the school, and posted to his personal social media sites from his personal computer.  After the school suspended the student, he sued the school claiming that the suspension violated his First Amendment rights.  The trial district court ruled in favor of the school board, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed, and awarded damages to the student.  Bell v. Itawamba County School Board (5th Cir. 2014)

The Fifth Circuit first determined that the song was composed and recorded off-campus, on his own computer, and posted to personal social media sites.  Second, the Court rejected the school district's argument that the song caused "substantial disruption" of school work or discipline. The Court questioned whether that defense to a First Amendment claim would even apply to a student's off-campus speech, although the Court ultimately did not rule on that issue. Instead, the Court held that even if the "substantial disruption" test does apply to off-campus conduct, the school district failed to show that the song created any "commotion, boisterous conduct, interruption of classes, or any lack of order, discipline and decorum at the school."  


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