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July 24, 2012

'Liking' James Holmes on Facebook

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

James Holmes is no longer a name that needs additional modifiers like “gunman” or “Colorado shooter” in order to be recognized. The people closest to the 24-year-old have described him as a “loner,” and indeed, the lack of digital data that follows everyone else these days by various accounts held on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (News - Alert), etc, is suggestive of his introverted disposition. But now, due to multiple pages created in dedication of this cause, James Holmes has a strong presence on Facebook (News - Alert) –as well as many followers who seemingly ‘like’ what he has done.

There are even an abundance of Facebook pages that seem to glorify the shooter - indicating that the First Amendment - as well as the Second Amendment –will be a topic of discussion in the weeks ahead.

Here’s where things get hairy as far as applying laws that govern freedom of speech in the context of social media: First, a recent court ruled that Facebook’s ‘like’ is not protected by the First Amendment. When two deputies in Hampton, Virginia were fired after expressing their ‘like’ for their boss’s opponent in the running for sheriff, they were dismayed after their boss was reelected. The consequences of their Facebook support got them both fired, and U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, the judge related to the deputies’ lawsuit, ruled that since he did not believe that Facebook’s ‘like’ is protected by the First Amendment, the sheriff did not overstep his boundaries by firing them.

Secondly, laws like the Social Networking Online Privacy Act (SNOPA) could protect the person who created the distasteful Facebook tribute to James Homes. SNOPA has been used in courtrooms by attorneys who have filed lawsuits on behalf of clients who were dismissed from employment or academic institutions as a result of what an employer of educational authority found on Faceboook. The purpose of SNOPA is to maintain that people’s expressions on Facebook should be regarded as private information.

If these laws applied to the irreverent Facebook page, that could mean that, while the person behind the creation of the page is protected by either the First Amendment or SNOPA, those who expressed their ‘like’ are not.

Law enforcement officials are turning to social media more and more in order to seek evidence of crimes. Although the gunman, James Holmes, leaves police with very little, it seems that some people are inviting the prospect of investigation. After the shooting, AMC and Warner Brothers made certain efforts to prevent the incitement of terrorism or copy cat crimes by restricting movie goers from dressing in costume and pulling movie trailers from viewing. If studios are recognizing that certain media actions can incite terrorism, then it is probable that law enforcement will recognize the potential as well. It is actually the potential of terrorist activities that seems to always afford the government the right to work around privacy and freedom of speech issues.


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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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