Let’s Talk About Free Speech

There seems to be some hoopla these days in LaVergne over the subject of free speech. Stating the obvious, we all know that free speech is protected under our first amendment rights of the Constitution of the United States. We also know that there are no laws against self-censorship.  We’re guessing that there are a LOT of folks in the city who actively practice self-censorship because while you have the right to free speech, you also face the consequences of what you say.

Many businesses have strong social media policies in place that usually outline that when you are speaking as a representative of their company, you must maintain a professional demeanor and not cause embarrassment to the business or organization. However, if you are on a personal page speaking your mind NOT AS A REPRESENTATIVE of any organization but expressing your own opinion about issues and government policies, then more power to you. Speak freely!

We are very fortunate in our great nation to have that right. But when government entities or representatives start talking about limiting those rights – the rights of individuals to speak or comment on social media – well that’s a slippery slope. That could be viewed as government censorship. What is government censorship, exactly?

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions.

The appointed alderman at the board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting tonight said there had been rumors that he wanted to limit what people could say on social media sites. He denied this and encouraged people to watch meetings themselves to see what was said. We’re going to help our readers out and link directly what he said (go to about 44 minutes in) at the workshop for the August meeting, held July 30, 2015 (we “erroneously” linked this to the July regular meeting but when pointed out, linked to the correct meeting).

The appointed alderman said he wanted to look into more detail about holding members of two local organizations to different social media standards than what was stated in the proposed Memorandums of Understanding. When questioned about it, he back-pedaled somewhat and said he wasn’t saying he wanted to change the draft MOU’s, but he wanted to have a “sidebar” conversation with the city attorney (we’re assuming to see how far he could push the issue).

Then at tonight’s meeting, the appointed aldermen in the closing comments again had the appearance of being angry when he went off about a member of an organization having a picture of a smiley face flipping two middle fingers. We too saw the photo he was referring to, but also know that this person was asked to remove another photo he had on his page linking him to an organization he is affiliated with. He complied immediately, so the organization policed itself without having to be censored by a government official.

We agree if you are representing an organization, you should conduct yourself in a professional manner. But if you are a volunteer and your page does not represent the organization in which you are a volunteer, you have every right to express yourself in words, photos, shares, and any other way you choose.

What we remain concerned about, however, is the whole issue of accountability. One social media site is making it out as if the issue of accountability is about money. It is about money insofar as the appointed alderman is implying a threat to cut off funds of an organization because members have exercised their constitutional right to free speech.

They stated,

“I applaud Alderman Jones for standing up for what is right for LaVergne and asking for accountability. He was asked by a citizen, “Why did you ask for this initiative?” and he said, “My intent is to stop people with ties to LaVergne from making the city look bad. If they are claiming to care for this city then show it at all times.”

His intention is to stop people with ties to LaVergne from making the city look bad? As we’ve said before, be careful what you ask for because you might get it.

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