Court of Appeals Ruled Eyebrow-Raising Facebook Posts Are Not Protected Speech

We’re living in a fascinating historical period where American courts are grappling with the question of where the boundaries between free speech and socially unacceptable behavior lie.

In a case involving a mortuary student, a cadaver named Bernie and threatening statements made on Facebook about updating a “death list,” the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the University of Minnesota’s right to discipline the student, finding that:

“Schools may limit or discipline student expression if school officials ‘reasonably conclude that it will materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school’….Whether or not [the student] intended her posts to be satire or mere venting does not diminish the university’s substantial interest in protecting the safety of its students and faculty and addressing potentially threatening conduct.”

Minnesota attorney Marylee Abrams analyzed the court’s decision and noted that:

“Based on the Court’s rationale, we can extrapolate a few take-aways.  Clearly, the Court took note of the fact there was an adopted social media polity which established notice and expected accountability. Training on the policy, and requiring a signed acknowledgment form indicating receipt of the policy, were also mentioned by the Court as important to their ruling. Finally, if social media use can be proven to disrupt work and discipline, it is less likely to be determined to be protected speech.”

New Survey Highlights the Incivility of American Politics

We’ve previously written how incivility negatively impacts political discourse and why we urgently need to turn things around (Gabrielle Giffords shooting highlights need for civility). Fortunately there are organizations such as The National Institute Civil Discourse that are focusing specifically on the problem of destructive political rhetoric.

A newly-released report highlights the extent of the public’s dissatisfaction with the current state. According to the results of the second annual Weber Shandwick/Powell Tate survey on this subject, nine out of ten Americans say that political candidates’ tone and civility will impact their vote in 2012:

The survey found that roughly 9 in 10 said “the way the candidate treats and deals with people he or she disagrees with” (90 percent) and “the candidate’s tone or level of civility” (88 percent) will play an important role in determining their vote for president in 2012. These figures reflect a sharp change in attitude. About two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) reported that in the past they had decided against voting for a certain candidate because he or she acted uncivilly.

Furthermore, “most Americans (91%) agree that incivility has negative consequences for America. Incivility in government is perceived to be harming America’s future, hurting its reputation on the world stage and preventing it from moving forward.”

Read the Executive Summary of last year’s report Civility In America: A Nationwide Study and this year’s full report Civility in America 2011.