Facebook content is like U.S. Mail

U.S Citizen Kimberly Hester is currently learning the consequences of exercising her First Amendment right to free speech after she posted a picture on her personal Facebook page of a co-worker’s pants around her ankles in April of last year.

Joey Stipek

The teacher’s aide at Frank Squires Elementary School located in Cassopolis, Mich., maintains the picture isn’t of pornographic nature and said she didn’t upload the picture to Facebook while at work.

Still, a parent who was friends with Hester on Facebook and could see Hester’s posts, notified the school district’s administration about the photos in question.

Hester’s boss then made repeated requests to access her Facebook account. Hester refused on every occasion.

The school district, assuming the worst possible scenario, placed Hester on paid administrative leave before eventually suspending her without pay.

Facebook has stepped forward, saying the popular social networking site isn’t happy about the possibility of employers prying into their employee’s profiles.

Facebook released a statement regarding situations such as Hester’s which read, “we don’t think it’s the right thing to do,”

In reaction, Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), apparently agrees and proposed an amendment to H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012.

The amendment, “Mind Your Own Business on Passwords,” would have prohibited employers, prospective and otherwise, from demanding employees’ social networking usernames and passwords — and would have allowed the FCC to step in and put a stop to any employers asking for this type of information for privacy reasons.

Unfortunately, the amendment was voted down in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, 236 to 184.

This is yet another example of people elected in Washington who don’t even know how to say “Facebook” correctly, making decisions that compromise a person’s right to privacy.

Since it’s impossible for those elected to Congress to understand this issue, I will write it out for them at a high-school reading level.

No single person using social media websites should have to turn over their passwords to their potential or current employers.

Citizens have the First Amendment right to practice free speech and religious freedoms even on websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

One’s social media personality is an extension of one’s overall individual identity. It deserves to be treated the same way as your mail is handled by the U.S. Postal Service.

You wouldn’t let a local congressman or woman open up a letter from your loved one, would you?

The American Civil Liberties Union even agreed with this common sense approach.

The ACLU issued a press release expressing a real concern that an employer with a password “essentially can act as imposters and assume the identity of an employee and continually access, monitor and even manipulate an employee’s personal social activities and opinion.”

Cases like Hester’s rarely are treated as a free speech issue. They are usually “these are the consequences of your freedom to speak” issues. Unfortunately, Hester is learning there are sometimes consequences to the content a person posts onto social media accounts.

—Joey Stipek

Special Assignments Reporter

To contact Joey Stipek, email onlineeditor@occc.edu.

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