Mark Byron of Hamilton County, Ohio, recently learned that even people who cannot access the private section of his Facebook page knew what he was posting about them, including his soon-to-be-ex-wife Elizabeth Byron.
That proved to be a problem for Bryon. Byron’s divorce from Mrs. Byron, pending before the Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court, has been a contentious one. The couple has fought over issues related to their young son, including visitation. Mrs. Byron accused Byron of verbally abusing and threatening her, causing the Magistrate to issue a protective order against Byron. The protective order barred Byron from causing his wife “mental abuse, harassment, [or] annoyance.”
Byron, upset that Mrs. Byron had accused him of being verbally abusing and threatening her, wrote on his Facebook wall: “…if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husbands [sic] life and take your son’s father away from him completely – all you need to do is say that you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner…” The Magistrate found that this post violated the protective order and held Byron in contempt.
Byron’s punishment? Byron could choose between spending time in jail or posting a court-approved apology to Mrs. Byron on Facebook everyday for 30 days. Understandably, Mr. Byron chose to apologize. His apology can be seen on the public portion of Byron’s Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/byronphoto).
The Magistrate also ordered Byron to pay over $1,000 in back child support and Mrs. Byron’s attorneys’ fees. Byron likely incurred a significant amount of his own attorneys’ fees in the process.
The Judge adopted the Magistrate’s ruling, a requirement to make the ruling an order. Byron appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio. The appeal may take several months to be decided. In the meantime, Byron has another court date set for March 19, 2012 before the Magistrate.
Naturally, this case has sparked a debate about whether the Court actually has the power to force someone to apologize, particularly in such a public forum as on a social media site. Critics of the ruling argue that requiring Byron to choose between apologizing and sending time in jail violates the First Amendment. Proponents of the ruling say that social media harassment has become such a problem that this type of punishment may be the only real deterrent to future incidents.
Regardless of whether a court-ordered apology is an appropriate punishment for Byron’s conduct, Byron could have avoided getting himself into trouble had he not posted what he did on Facebook. Part of what makes this case interesting is that Byron had unfriended his wife at some point before he made this post. But somehow, the wife found out about Byron’s post anyway.
While some have speculated that Mrs. Byron deliberately sought to find negative information on Byron’s Facebook posts, it is also possible that mutual Facebook friends who have not yet been divided in the divorce told Mrs. Byron about the post. Either way, although Mrs. Byron was not intended to ever view the post, she did, as now half of the United States has.
For more on this story, see the Cincinnati Enquirer’s story: http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20120222/NEWS010702/302210147/Judge-Jail-Facebook-rant.
It cannot be said enough times: be careful with social media. It is a useful tool, just like a chainsaw. If used appropriately, it can help remove large obstacles from your path. If used with wanton abandon, it can end up costing you an arm and a leg.