[LINK] Facebook member apology ordered by court

Jan Whitaker jwhit at janwhitaker.com
Sun Feb 26 11:25:40 AEDT 2012

US court gives choice of Facebook apology

February 25, 2012 - 11:08AM

A US man who was threatened with jail time for posting comments about 
his estranged wife on his personal Facebook page unless he posted 
daily apologies for a month says the court ruling violates his 
freedom of speech.

Mark Byron of Cincinnati is making the apology to avoid 60 days in 
jail, but he plans to appeal the domestic relations court ruling. 
Byron and free speech and media experts say it should concern other 
users of the social networking site.

With hundreds of millions of people using Facebook for communication, 
Byron said on Friday that "if they can do this to me, they can do it 
to others".

The idea "that anybody could tell you what to say to your friends on 
Facebook should be scary to people", said Cincinnati lawyer Jill 
Meyer, who specialises in free speech and media issues.

The ruling is highly unusual and "troubling because it's a court 
telling someone to say something to - in some regards - his chosen 
group of friends", said Meyer. She noted that the comments were not 
directed to Byron's wife, Elizabeth Byron, who was blocked from 
accessing the page.

According to the ruling, Byron posted comments on his page in 
November, saying in part: "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 and they'll take him away."

The Byrons are involved in ongoing divorce and child custody 
proceedings. Byron has said his wife and the court have prevented him 
from seeing his 17-month-old son many times. The court maintains he 
is allowed to see him on a twice-weekly basis.

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers last month found Byron in 
contempt of a protective order over his Facebook comments. Meyers 
said that Byron could avoid a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine by 
posting the apology - written by Meyers - to his wife and all of his 
Facebook friends and paying her lawyer's fees.

The June court order prohibited Byron from causing his wife physical 
or mental abuse, harassment or annoyance. She asked in December that 
he be found in contempt after learning of the Facebook comments.

Byron's comments expressed frustration, but they were not threats and 
he didn't make them to his wife, said Cincinnati lawyer Jack Greiner, 
who also specialises in free speech and media issues.

Greiner said he doesn't think the First Amendment "allows a court to 
find that someone has harassed or caused a person to suffer mental 
abuse merely by expressing one's opinion about a court proceeding in 
a non-threatening way".

Greiner said that a court compelling speech through a court-written 
apology raises as many free speech concerns as actions prohibiting free speech.

The statement that Byron says he has been posting since February 13 
has him apologising to his wife for "casting her in an unfavourable 
light" and to his Facebook friends for "attempting to mislead them". 
Byron said he is being forced to make statements that are false.

The magistrate's assistant said on Friday that Meyers cannot comment 
on pending court cases. Elizabeth Byron's lawyer did not immediately 
return calls.

The ruling found that several of Mark Byron's comments were "clearly 
intended to be mentally abusive, harassing and annoying" to his wife 
and "generate a negative and venomous response to her from his 
Facebook friends".

Responses by Facebook friends to his posting caused Elizabeth Byron 
to be "afraid and concerned", according to court documents.

Byron and his lawyer, Becky Ford, say he made his comments out of 
frustration and never expected his wife to see them since she 
couldn't access his account.

"Once he made the comments, some of his Facebook friends started 
making inflammatory comments which he had no control over," Ford said.

His comments were "nothing other than free speech communication where 
he was venting truthful information", Ford said.

Bryon is scheduled to appear in court on March 19 and show proof that 
he posted the apology or go to jail.


This story was found at: 

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
jwhit at janwhitaker.com
blog: http://janwhitaker.com/jansblog/
business: http://www.janwhitaker.com

Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or 
sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

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