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The First Amendment of Social Media - Freedom of Tweet


									The First Amendment of Social Media: Freedom
of Tweet
By Brian Solis, blogger at and principal of FutureWorks, Author of the new book
Engage!, Co-Author, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and Now Is Gone

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of expression from government
interference. While it is within our right to say what we think without fear of prosecution from our
Government, freedom of expression in social networks however, is something altogether different. In
the court of public opinion, your words can and will be used against you. But what works against us,
also works for us.

While the egosystem is seemingly rife with unintelligible chatter, it is, in and of itself, revealing a new
direction for our culture and society. In this brave new world of altruism and self actualization, the
lines that divide offline and online personae and experiences blur into one real-time, real world
lifeway. Indeed, the impact of social and mobile technology is profound. As a result, human behavior
has diverted towards a very public genre of expression, discovery, and extroversion, and packaged
in brevity and frequency.

We are beguiled by this new found freedom of speech, sharing a communal desire to find our voice,
protected by a false sense of security. The statusphere and blogsphere are rich with perpetual
observations and declarations, but we lose something in translation. While content was once king, in
social media, where character and word count is precious, context ascends to the top of the ranks.
In short form, context is elusive and in order to convey intent and desired outcomes, one must
master the art and science of storytelling and influence. We must realize that what we think we’re
saying might not convey as desired. There’s a difference between what we say and what is heard.
And now with social media, intention is often eclipsed by abbreviation.

(cc) Brian Solis, - Twitter, @briansolis
27-year old accountant Paul Chambers learned about context and character the hard way recently
when he tested his Freedom of Tweet. In January 2010, Chambers Tweeted, “”Crap! Robin Hood
airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the
airport sky high!!”
He was later convicted and fined. In November 2010, he lost his appeal. What was intended as a
joke, in hindsight, is now vividly clear to see just how things can be taken out of context – especially
on Twitter. Yes, his Tweet was in poor taste. His action was the catalyst for a national example of
prudence. But, the Twitter community stood by Chambers and their Freedom of Tweet
by uniting under the hashtag #IAmSpartacusupon learning his appeal was lost. With homage to the
film, Spartacus’s fellow gladiators demonstrated unanimity by declaring, “I am Spartacus.” Twitter
denizens showed solidarity with Chambers by repeating his Tweet to the point of topping the Trends
in Twitter for an entire day. While many stand united on Twitter, the reality is that Chambers lost his
job and still faces conviction and a significant legal bill.

Judge Jacqueline Davies said of the Tweet “It’s menacing in its content and obviously so. It could
not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”

Context vs. Intention

A Rude Awakening

Inner monologue and filters usually prevent us from uttering words that could haunt us or worse,
harm us. Social Media erode these filters enticing us to share in public what might be better shared
with discretion. Perhaps our screens shroud us in a protective light.

Either way, there is no shortage of stories where students are dismissed as candidates based on
what college admissions officers discover on social networks. Accordingly, job candidates also lose
opportunities without realization as HR managers discredit them based on what they share in social
media. We’ve also read many stories where employees are fired for lambasting customers or
bashing management.

Our digital shadows work for and against us. When it comes to matters of education and
employment, perhaps it is not wise to test our Freedom of Tweet unless it is advantageous to do so.
In a groundbreaking case however, we see that the First Amendment of Social Media may in fact,
officially take shape. An employee who criticized her employer on Facebook was recently fired for
doing so. Now the National Labor Relations Board accused American Media Response of illegally
firing her.

According to the National Labor Board, Social Media are essentially digital water coolers. Acting
General Counsel Lafe Solomon expounded, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National
Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees
talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to
do that.”

This landmark case will serve as precedent for the coming flood of cases to consume courts.

While common sense is uncommon, it seems that in this case, at least employees are covered even
if judgment lapses. The National Labor Relations Act gives workers a federally protected right to
form unions and it prohibits the punishment of workers for discussing working conditions or

(cc) Brian Solis, - Twitter, @briansolis
This significant move by the NLB triggered a “lawflash” by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a law firm with
a large labor and employment practice representing hundreds of companies, “Employers should
review their Internet and social media policies to determine whether they are susceptible to an
allegation that the policy would ‘reasonably tend to chill employees’ in the exercise of their rights to
discuss wages, working conditions and unionization.”

In case you glossed over the above paragraph, it essentially says that your social media policy
might open up the organization to potential complaints, suits, and liabilities.

With Social Media Comes Great Responsibility

Yes, social media is the democratization of information. We’re inspired to express ourselves and are
rewarded every time we share a bit of who we are and what moves us with the recognition and
validation of response and connection. But with this new voice and platform, we must also embrace
a more informed era of consciousness. Now more than ever, vigilance becomes a virtue. While this
so-called First Amendment of Social Media is written and tested in real time, it is up to us to say and
do the things that share not only who we are, but also who we want to be personally and

I Tweet, therefore I am…protected?

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Facebook

(cc) Brian Solis, - Twitter, @briansolis
Brian Solis is globally recognized as one of most prominent thought leaders and
published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has
influenced the effects of emerging media on the convergence of marketing,
communications, and publishing. He is principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning New
Media agency in Silicon Valley, and has led interactive and social programs for Fortune
500 companies, notable celebrities, and Web 2.0 startups. is ranked
among the top of world's leading business and marketing online resources.

Solis is the author of Engage! The complete guide for businesses to build, cultivate and
measure success in the new Web.

In 2009, Brian Solis, along with Deirdre Breakenridge, released, Putting the Public back
in Public Relations.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook
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(cc) Brian Solis, - Twitter, @briansolis

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