Can a county judge tell you what to post on your Facebook page?
That question is at the heart of the interesting case of Mark Byron, a Cincinnati-based photographer who was ordered to post a court-approved apology to his soon to be ex-wife on his Facebook page every day for 30 days -- or spend 60 days in jail.
“The idea that a court can say, ‘I order you not to post something or to post something’ seems to me to be a 1st Amendment issue,” free-speech expert Jack Greiner, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In June 2011, Byron was found guilty of civil domestic violence against his Elizabeth Byron, and the court gave her a temporary protection order.
In November, he posted a nasty note about his wife on his Facebook wall, which read: “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!”
“I just went on Facebook to vent,” Byron said in a televised interview with WLWT-TV. “I kind of likened it to having a drink with a friend at a bar and telling them about things.”
Byron had blocked his wife from seeing his Facebook page, but she still learned about the post and proceeded to file a motion stating that the post violated the protection order, which prohibited her then husband “from causing the plaintiff or the child of the parties to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance or bodily injury.”
On Jan. 25, magistrate Paul Meyers agreed that Byron had violated the protection order and offered him a choice: go to jail for 60 days and pay a $500 fine, or pay back child support and post an apology, penned by Meyers on his Facebook page for 30 days beginning in mid-February.
So far, Elizabeth Byron has stayed out of the media spotlight, but Mark Byron is busily posting all the news stories about his case on his Facebook page.
If there is a lesson in this story, we suggest it’s that Facebook is probably not a good place to vent your frustrations.
As Tommy Jordan’s daughter learned when a video of her father reading aloud from a bratty screed she wrote against her parents went viral (and ended with her father shooting up her laptop), you can try to block people from seeing your Facebook writings, but there’s no guarantee they won’t find them eventually.
[For the record, 2:48 p.m. Feb. 24: An earlier version of this post misspelled Cincinnati in two references.]