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Can posting on social media cost you money? Jail time?

By Brady McAninch on October 13, 2016

According to a 2016 study, over 60 percent of the adult population of the United States has at least one social media profile.  A majority of these users use their social media accounts daily.  With numbers like these, it can be easy to forget that Facebook was launched just a little over a decade ago.  Other social media sites and applications, like Instagram and Snapchat, are not even a decade old.

This rapid technological growth and development has made it difficult for the government to regulate the social media landscape.  Should the government regulate offensive speech?  Does it even have the power to do so?  If it does, where is that line between criminal activity and freedom of speech?

Who has the power to regulate your social media activity?

For example, in 2014, an English teacher was stabbed to death by one of her students.  A 21-year old from the same area took to Facebook and posted: “Personally im glad that teacher got stabbed up, feel sorry for the kid… he shoulda pissed on her too”.  Days later, the 21-year old was arrested and charged under England’s 2003 Communications Act.  An act that was written prior to the current social media craze.  It was put into effect a year prior to Facebook’s launch.  The 21-year old pled guilty and served six weeks in jail.

Is online satire or parody protected?

In 2014, controversy arose when a twitter account was used to parody Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.  The account, known as @Peoriamayor, was suspended by Twitter.  Shortly thereafter, Peoria area police executed a search warrant at the residence of the individual believed to be running the parody account.  The police also took all of the electronic devices that had internet access.  They then arrested multiple individuals whom they believed were tied to the account.  The kicker?  The individuals were never charged with any internet or social media related issues.  Instead, they were charged with possession of marijuana that was discovered when the officers were executing their search warrant.

Mr. Daniel, the individual who created the parody account, sued the city of Peoria, and others, claiming civil rights violations.  The lawsuit settled when the city agreed to pay out $125,000.  The city also agreed to issue a directive to the police department recognizes that charges related to false impersonations of a public official do not apply to online parodies or satires.

The number of cases related to social media will likely only continue to grow as more and more people become active in this new online world.  If you or someone you know has questions about their right following an incident involving social media, contact one of the experienced attorneys at Hipskind & McAninch, LLC, for a FREE CASE CONSULSTATION at: 618.641.9189 | 314.312.2930 | info@hm-attorneys.com

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