Thursday, June 16, 2011

Social Media Ethics, Politics, the First Amendment, and Twitter

The media and the public can't get enough of Congressman Anthony Weiner's Twitter Sex Scandal. Sex, Sports, Entertainment, and Politics drives our culture. People watch television, go to the movies, or view content online generally if it is about one of these four topics. When a situation such as Weinergate contains three of these four issues it may be considered a trifecta. Here, it is sex, entertainment, and politics.

Social Media Ethics is not black and white. There is a tremendous amount of gray. I am a staunch supporter of the protections that the First Amendment provides; however, this right is sometimes balanced against other issues such as privacy, defamation, copyright, etc... The problem is where should the line be drawn as far as what is merely inappropriate, what is unethical, and what is protected under the First Amendment? For example, recently in Minnesota the state Senate Ethics Panel voted to dismiss an ethics complaint if state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman apologized for a Tweet that allegedly took out of context what state Sen. Barb Goodwin stated in a speech to her fellow colleagues. It appears that at least an entire afternoon and evening was spent discussing how to handle this matter.

According to a Minneapolis-St. Paul NBC affiliate news report, the ethics committee debated how Sen. Hoffman should apologize to Sen Goodwin; in person, via Twitter, or to the Senate along with some type of social media component. If Sen. Hoffman's message was just spoken and not tweeted I highly doubt that the Minnesota Senate Ethics Committee would have addressed the matter. Therefore, will social media usage be treated differently than other forms of communication when determining what is ethical, inappropriate, and protected by the First Amendment?

Sending out one allegedly misleading Tweet about a colleague is much different than sending out at least one photograph of your genitals along with multiple allegedly inappropriate photographs of yourself to strangers. I would never recommend following Mr. Weiner's social media or crisis management strategy.

Is Mr. Weiner's behavior merely inappropriate, is it unethical, or is it protected by the First Amendment? Where do we draw the line? I believe a national conversation is needed to discuss how social media and the First Amendment may collide. How far will Minnesota or another government body go in regulating social media political speech? These are just a few of the many legal and political issues that will need to be addressed in the near future.

To learn more about social media political speech and ethics you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.