Facebook rants carry a hefty price

A man in Ohio is now apologizing on Facebook to his estranged wife after a rant he posted on Facebook was seen as a violation of a protection order. Free speech issues aside, the take away is that nothing is really private on social media…so think before you post!

Read the full article from The Chicago Tribune here.

By Ana Veciana-Suarez, Tribune Media Services

March 14, 2012

Ever ranted on Facebook? Maybe posted a snide comment or two?

Most of us have, and never thought anything of it.

I imagine Cincinnati photographer Mark Byron figured the same. He expressed anger about his pending divorce and child visitation issues in a forum he thought was private.

“If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely,” he wrote, “all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner and they’ll take him away.”

Bad move.

Though Byron had blocked his estranged wife from his Facebook page, she still learned about the post and filed a motion in court accusing him of violating a protection order.

A magistrate agreed with Elizabeth Byron and issued a ruling that free speech experts say is worrisome. It should also concern the bajillions of people who use the networking site as if it were the kitchen table, a place to confess over cafecito.

The magistrate’s ultimatum to Byron: Go to jail for 60 days and pay a $500 fine or post an apology to the wife, written by the judge, on Facebook every day for 30 days.

Byron has been apologizing since Feb. 13. But he has also told local media exactly what he thinks of the “apology,” namely that it’s forcing him to make false statements. He’s expected back in court March 19.

Many divorces end acrimoniously, and this one is no exception. Elizabeth Byron accused her husband of being verbally abusive and threatening her with his fist. He was exonerated of criminal allegations last year, but the judge issued a civil protective order prohibiting Byron from “causing the plaintiff or the child of the parties to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance or bodily injury.”

It was this order the magistrate thought Byron had violated. But the order also reads too broadly. In some relationships, almost anything a soon-to-be ex does — including his very presence, as a friend once told me — could be construed as annoying. Does annoyance merit jail time? Does venting on your Facebook page, one that is blocked from the wife’s view, constitute harassment and abuse?

More important are the prickly issues of free speech that the order tramples. Cincinnati attorney Jill Meyer, who specializes in free speech and media issues, told the Associated Press that Byron’s comments expressed frustration, not threats, and that Elizabeth Byron was never mentioned by name. The lawyer says the idea “that anybody can tell you what to say to your friends on Facebook should be scary to people.”

This case may or may not wend its way through the labyrinthine court system as a free speech issue. It may or may not be the test case that determines how interaction on sites like Facebook is governed, if at all.

Read the rest of the story here.