Freedom Of Speech And the Social Media

Rashard Mendenhall is a 23-year-old running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL. He is also an avid user of social media, including Twitter. For personal reasons which will become apparent below I am NOT going to link either Twitter’s main page or Mendenhall’s Twitter account. It is his comments about the death of Osama Bin Laden and 9/11 on Twitter that have created quite a media storm. The use of Twitter for personal communications with fans is very common among younger professional athletes. There have been numerous incidents where these athletes have gotten hot water because of their comments on Twitter. None of these comments, including those by Mendenhall, are nowhere near as inflammatory as comments about President Obama on other people’s Twitter, Facebook, accounts, or elsewhere on the internet. Yet many of the analysts on ESPN and other news networks want the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, The National Hockey League, and colleges to restrict the use of Twitter by athletes.

While I have no problem with restricting access to social media or even telephone calls during games, practices, and other organized team activities, I feel that restricting these athletes’ access to social media during personal time is a violation of the First Amendment. As I heard one ESPN analyst put it yesterday, Mendenhall, because he is a professional athlete, represents the Steelers and the NFL, implying that this is in effect 24/7. Sorry, but that’s a crock of shit. How would you feel if your employer told you what you could and could not say on your Twitter account using your own cell phone or computer?

For a very informative and interesting discussion about Mendenhall’s comments, as well as Twitter use by professional athletes, click here.

As for why I disapprove of the use of Twitter in general, first of all Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters. Most people cannot say anything worth while in 140 or less characters. This makes it very difficult to present one’s ideas in the proper context.

Secondly, it is too easy for anyone, especially the media, to gain access to your Twitter posts, and Twitter does not restrict how a “follower” of anyone uses Twitter posts. If Twitter posts are meant to be personal communications, those comments were more then likely meant for the personal use of the followers, not for use as grist for the media mills. If someone in the media, who is say a follower of Mendenhall, wants to use one of his posts, he should at least notify if not get written permission to do so. The interpretation of the copyright laws to be revised to include social media. Twitter needs to make this sort of “unauthorized” use of Twitter posts a violation of their Terms of Use. We need to redefine the balance between the freedom of the press with the rights of individuals to some personal privacy.

I want to talk very briefly what Mendenhall said. I will have to paraphrase his comments sense, from what I heard, at least one, if not both, of the posts have been deleted, probably due to pressure from his employer. Mendenhall’s first comment expressed some distaste for the chanting, cheering, and singing of the National Anthem after the news of Osama’s death became public. I too found the demonstrations somewhat inappropriate. Osama’s death was, for all practical purposes, an execution, much like the death of Saddam Hussein, Adolf Eichmann, or the Rosenburgs. All of these were political executions, some more barbaric then others. There was no reason for anyone to cheer at any of these executions.

The cheering that I saw at the Monday night baseball game in Philadelphia was eerily similar to the cheering of the Iranian mob outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1981. I know most Americans were horrified at that demonstration. I always thought we considered ourselves above such displays of barbarism and jingoistic nationalism. As someone emigrated to this country from Germany some 60 years ago, I am sensitive, perhaps to a fault, to the jingoistic nationalism exhibited by the German people during the Third Reich. I get nervous when Americans display the same sort of “nationalistic” fervor. Patriotism, when done right, is a good thing, but when it becomes robotic and unreflective it becomes a tool for those seeking tyrannical powers to control the masses.

Finally, I want to applaud President Obama for his decision NOT to release the apparently gory and gruesome photos of Bin Laden’s body. I am sure that the more conservative members of the media will pounce on this decision, much as they did with his birth certificate. However, we as a nation must remember that there are Islamic people around the world who, although do not support Bin Laden’s terrorism, will be grossly offended if those pictures are released. We have done much to offend these people; let’s not add insult to injury.

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One thought on “Freedom Of Speech And the Social Media”

  1. I forgot to talk about Rashard Mendenhall’s second tweet where he raised a valid point. He said that he found it difficult to understand how an airliner crashing into the upper third of a skyscraper could cause the entire tower to collapse. Here’s a link to an engineers explanation of what happened: http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/jom/0112/eagar/eagar-0112.html

    This second site debunks some of the myths associated with 9/11, you all might it interesting reading: http://www.debunking911.com/index.html

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