[LINK] Facebook member apology ordered by court
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
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
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
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
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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