Freedom of Social Media

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by Sheri Sakamoto

The layout of social media creates a common ground for people to post and communicate what they want. Once they post a comment, message, or picture it becomes public domain and others have access to them. This means that others can also use it against them, but do they have that right? When does posting become an infringement on freedom of speech? Even though the things they post can be illicit, mean, or downright crude is it not their right under the First Amendment to be able to freely express themselves? Should we crucify these people like we have crucified Anthony Weiner and others like him, who made the mistake of committing an online faux pas?

Weiner’s problem was that he posted publicly what he thought would be relatively private, which is a common error that people make. Twitter is known for its accessibility to the public, which is part of the reason why it was created and the appeal to people. As Noah Glass, a member of the original Twitter team, puts it “I realized that that the level of privacy we thought was important, was not necessarily important to a certain group of people for a certain type of communication” ( This led to the openness of Twitter’s “follow” capability and to Weiner’s downfall when he thought he was sending a “private” picture of him in his underwear to a college girl. The thing is, was this really that bad a social blunder that he should be forced to resign? No, because his professional work was unaffected.

As of the time of publishing this article, Weiner has officially announced his resignation after the countless outcries from democrats and republicans alike to step down. However, it is within his right to post what he wishes. Yes, it is morally unacceptable in this society to commit adultery, but what he did was a perverted act and no actual extramarital affairs occurred beyond the pictures of him in his underwear or without his shirt on. It is more a show of his ego than a sign that he is not a good politician. He has not done anything but disillusion the public of his credibility, which is a reasonable demand for his resignation. Yet if we can give others the freedom of speech to post slanders of others, how can we not afford him the same opportunity?

In the case of one high school senior, he was suspended from school for the rest of the year for videos he posted to YouTube and refused to take down. The school is claiming that the videos he posted were a disruption to the school. Yet he declares his cartoons, involving references to sex and drugs as well as one presidential candidate’s genocide of an entire race, “political satire” (CityNews Toronto). He created these videos out of school, but it was for his economics and politics classes and he will soon be appealing his suspension. The Durham Regional Police and one of their experts have viewed the videos and have stated that, “We didn’t see anything criminal” (CityNews Toronto). There is concern that the school is infringing upon the student’s right to freedom of speech, and this may be a case where he wins, especially when taking into consideration the cases of two students who did win a similar case.

In two separate cases of freedom of speech through social media sites, it was determined by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that public schools cannot punish students for online speech made off-campus (Daily Caller). This case involved two different students who created MySpace profiles of their principals that cast them in very unfavorable lights to make fun of them. Although the things they posted were inappropriate, it was ruled that their rights under the First Amendment had been violated when the schools decided to administer punitive measures such as 10-day suspensions and forbidding them to walk for graduation. I do not condone their postings, because it was still rude and insensitive to pretend to be another person, but they are just expressing their upset feelings through another media. It is still a form of speech and as such they are within their rights. Why do we not apply the same rules to Anthony Weiner?

The silent rule here seems to be “not to get caught,” which is what Weiner’s mistake was. People are shocked by the pictures of him without a shirt, but Google “Arnold Schwarzenegger” and images of him shirtless pop up and no one is complaining. Considering the amount of pictures of actual nudity allowed to be posted over the Internet, Weiner’s are hardly worthy of notice and he should not be condemned for them. Whether or not he should be looked down on for his lies about being “hacked “is not in question here. As a New York representative he has lost his credibility and so it can be seen why he has lost his political position, but for some reason people’s concerns are those pictures when that isn’t the real issue.

The issue people see is that it was inappropriate behavior for a congressman. Yet looking at the precedence of others in political positions is Weiner’s actions that deplorable in comparison? Take a look at Bill Clinton, the second president to be impeached, and this was for his extra-marital affairs that he lied about. John F. Kennedy never had to resign, but his affairs were well-known as well. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s scandal about his child, out of wedlock, had also come to public notice after his political career. There is even a list posted on Wikipedia that includes names of various politicians over the years who have been involved in sexual scandals. Weiner did not have any extra-marital affairs. He just posted pictures of his body, which is hardly on par with the sex scandals in the history of politicians.

It is clear from the responses to Anthony Weiner’s actions that he has crossed a social boundary. As people have labeled it an “illicit” or “immoral” action, we can see the reactions to his postings. However, his actions are the rights of social media sites to post what the user wishes to post and can fall under freedom of speech. His political ethics was unaffected, and the outcry for his resignation was not a fitting punishment to his actions. However, it goes to show that society’s pressures can be greater than the law.


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