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Facebook this week refused to take down a post that showed a man dressed in black slashing a police officer’s throat. Dallas cop killer, Micah Xavier Johnson had posted a rant on the page just days before his killing spree.

At issue is our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. This is not the first time our country has faced issues of material deemed offensive by some, if not a majority, of citizens. The questions remain the same: how do you determine what is offensive and who decides?

When Facebook was presented with a complaint, it responded “Reports like yours are important in making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the post you reported for graphic violence and found it doesn’t violate our community standards.”

Generally Facebook does step in and remove specific threats made by posters. In this case, no specific person was identified.

The Supreme Court has faced similar First Amendment issues over pornography. It generally tends to give added weight to letting people express themselves as they wish as long as the participants and the viewers are both agreeable.

The Johnson post only went to people who wanted to see his remarks. You had to seek it out.

Facebook also tends to not edit insensitive remarks. Joseph W. Resovshi of Ohio posted the following after the Connecticut school shooting: “I’m so happy someone shot up all those little (expletives). Viva la school shootings!!!!” He was arrested by local police.The Medina-Gazette newspaper quoted Police Chief Patrick Berarducci as saying the post “was taken as a threat by many people.” The charges were later dismissed.

What do you think Facebook should do? And do you want a business deciding what you can say? These are questions we will all wrestle with for some time to come.

If you have a legal question, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

 

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