Loudoun County has a habit of walking on the cutting edge of legal battles. Lawsuits over legality of prayers during school graduations and content filters on library computers are among the high-profiles court appeals that come to mind.
Now, Loudoun’s government leaders are finding themselves as test cases in the age of social media.
Not since the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press have individuals been given a bigger conduit to share their views with the masses than with today’s assortment of content sharing websites and apps. With a keystroke, one can send his or her thoughts and opinions to hundreds or thousands or millions of others. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of our president on one end of the spectrum, and for those who feel ignored or disenfranchised on the other. Social media gives a voice to the voiceless as much as it provides a bigger bully pulpit to those already in positions of power.
Lawsuits brought against county supervisors and School Board members by one of their most determined critics challenge the ability of politicians and public servants to mute his voice.
There have been, and will be, many more court cases filed seeking instruction on where to draw the line in nature of online postings and commentaries. The legal landscape remains muddy, in Loudoun and well beyond its boundaries. It is clear, however, where that line starts. Freedom of speech is among the most fundamental American rights. It is to be protected—and limited in only the most extraordinary circumstances.
Having a government critic post a comment—even a grossly misleading one—on a politician’s website or Facebook page is little different than having him or her picketing with signs outside a government building.
Uncomfortable? Frustrating? Counterproductive? Maddening? That’s our democracy.