“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” – Laurence J. Peter
Every now and again, or quite frequently depending upon who is telling the story, I utter something inappropriate in the presence of Mrs. Lawrence, and based on her response, I realize that yes, I DID say that out loud. My options then consist of engaging in an argument, claiming I didn’t really mean it, or apologizing profusely. Obviously, in most instances, the latter is the only viable option. And do you know what is never an option? Invoking my 1st Amendment right of “Freedom of Speech”. And yet I see that assinine response on social media on an almost daily basis. If so many others can invoke that option, why can’t I? Am I not a full-fledged citizen, veteran, and all around patriotic guy? Shouldn’t I be afforded the same rights? Before we can answer that, perhaps a brief history lesson is in order.
First Amendment: 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.
Many court challenges and interpretations, concerning free speech, have broken it down like this: “The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government.”
Last time I checked, Mrs. Lawrence, although dictatorial in some instances, (did I say that out loud?) doesn’t meet the standards of “government”. Therefore, she is within her legal rights to interfere and constrain my speech. We all have the basic right to “Freedom of Speech”, but in most instances, that speech can and will produce consequences.
Social media has exacted a lot of consequences. There are countless examples of people who have lost jobs and damaged reputations with social media posts and primarily due to a lack of knowledge or concern over their employer’s social media policies. (And if you are an employer who has not yet implemented a social media policy, then I can only assume you still run your business on AOL dial-up services.) Examine some of those stories and you’ll find a common thread. Either the offending party, or his/her defenders, will at some point be screaming about “Freedom of Speech.” Crickets when it comes to consequences.
We live in some harsh social climates right now. Politics, religion, race relations, law enforcement and military issues, and whatever cause-du-jour is trending at any given time, and social media has provided an outlet, previously unavailable, for us to express our opinions. But we always seem to forget those nasty consequences. If your social media profile indicates you are currently employed by, or retired from, (insert business or agency here), then you need to understand that your posts, whether right or wrong, will reflect on that employer and others in that same general profession.
And here’s where I pick on my peers. In my humble opinion, there is nothing more disgusting and causation for termination, than seeing professional law enforcement officers, whether active or retired, posting inflammatory comments on social media. No one can control your personal beliefs or opinions, but put them out there in the internet-of-things, with reference to being employed by, or retired from XYZ PD, and you deserve whatever consequences befall. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Guaranteed that even if you have second thoughts and delete the post, someone has already done a screen grab. More importantly, those posts don’t only reflect upon your character, but the general public will perceive it to apply to everyone else in your agency and beyond.
And please….stop with the “Freedom of Speech” rally cry. It doesn’t apply. And if I can’t get away with it with Mrs. Lawrence, then you can’t use it as a defense either.