The First Amendment rights are one of the great pillars of our democracy. Freedom of speech becomes a sensitive issue once a person enters the arena of public service though. Where do the limitations begin and where do our rights end? Further, in today’s world, a significant chunk of our life is spent online. A lot of our activities are intertwined with technology. What is the role and impact of social media communication to free speech?
Richard Hodsdon, the Assistant County Attorney for Stillwater, Minnesota is this course’s resource speaker. He’s been an attorney for the last 4 decades specializing on civil and criminal matters related to corrections, criminal prosecution, law enforcement operations, and management and personnel issues including employment law.
Rick will review important case law concerning free speech for public employees, what constitutes protected communication and off-duty conduct, and the evolution of free speech as it applies in social networks. Specific topics he discussed include:
- How free speech, government employment, privacy and social media mesh together.
- Case law that illustrates how an individual’s conduct in their social media networks affected their duty and responsibility as a public sector employee.
- The Brady/Giglio implications of an individual’s social media conduct.
- Defining the extent of First Amendment protection in cases of government personnel by balancing employees’ interest as private citizens and their role as public servants in ensuring efficient government operations.
- Exemption from First Amendment protection of statements made in an official capacity.
- Resolving the dilemma of delineating off-duty speech when it comes to law enforcement officers who are never really off-duty by considering public concern and how it affects the operations of their agency.
- Defining free speech as it relates to social media activities where liking a page is the internet equivalent of supporting specific principles, campaigns, and even political personalities.
- An agency’s responsibility to monitor personnel activity as it relates to the First Amendment when it comes to instances of online harassment, bullying, and discrimination.
- Current legislation that seeks to restrict employer’s ability to require job candidates to provide their social media credentials.
Rick addresses the audience’s inquiries about:
- Whether liking tweets expressing disdain or support for an elected official is a matter of public concern.
- The limitations related to religious activities and speech.
- Disclaimers and other measures being done to separate one’s personal opinions from the organization they work for.
- Maintaining social media accounts for public sector employees.
- Evidence to support how an individual’s actions affected an organization’s operations.
- An agency’s responsibility to proactively monitor instances that may cause harm to the organization of their personnel.
- Law enforcement officers who support extremists or hate groups.
- First amendment case laws for private organizations.