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Court-ordered Facebook apology raises free speech concerns

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2012 | Firm News

Facebook and smartphones have been used more and more often in family law cases. A couple involved in an ongoing divorce and child custody dispute has made national headlines because of a recent court order.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the man posted a rant about his estranged spouse on Facebook. Here is part of it: “If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely – all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner.”

Even though he had blocked his ex from his Facebook page, she found out about his statement, and a domestic relations court wasn’t too happy about it and found him in contempt of a protective order. The judge gave the man a choice: 60 days in jail plus a $500 fine, or he could apologize to his wife on Facebook every day for 30 days.

The man says he felt that he had no choice but to do the latter. Now, he and his attorney say the order raises concerns about freedom of speech. Other free speech experts and attorneys are saying the same thing.

An attorney specializing in media issues and freedom of speech says the order is troubling because the court is essentially telling the man what to say to his chosen group of friends. According to the Chronicle, she says, “That anybody could tell you what to say to your friends on Facebook should be scary to people.”

The man ordered to give the apology adds that if this can happen to him, similar decisions could affect others in the same way.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Ohio man given choice of Facebook apology or jail,” Lisa Cornwell, Feb. 26, 2012