Roseanne Barr - Right to be Racist?

By The Branding Agency

Can you lose your job over a tweet?  Just ask Roseanne Barr.

You can wage in on whether or not you think Barr’s tweet was racist or not.  The majority of us would say hands down, yes. Some would beg to differ, but not many.  But, in any event, people are enraged. And so is ABC Entertainment.

After Barr made her racial tweet about Valerie Jarrett, ABC Entertainment cancelled the sitcom “Roseanne.”  Certainly Barr’s tweet was offensive and racist, which lead ABC to make its decision. It is good to see that ABC took swift action.

Now, let’s back up here and discuss this matter as it pertains to the ability of an employer to terminate a person (or its job) for a tweet; one the employer unilaterally determines is racist.  I say unilaterally, because ABC did not have a judge decide on whether Barr’s tweet was racist or not.

We are not debating whether Barr’s tweet was racist; it was, period.

Instead, did ABC have the legal right to cancel the sitcom because of Barr’s racist tweet?  And if so, doesn’t that open the floodgates for employers to scourer Twitter for your racist tweet or ill-founded tweet to fire you?  Hmmmm…..

Well, we know ABC was reactionary here and not proactive, but we must be careful here….do we want to give employers the legal right to fire at will for what they deem to be a racist remark or comment?  ABC believes it can, or at least, it believes it needed to stand up and take action to repudiate something so foul.

Now, we all know that we Americans have the 1st Amendment right:  “Freedom of speech”.  The amendment as adopted in 1791 reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Ok, great.  Does that mean we have a 1st Amendment right to make racist tweets?  Are racist comments a protected speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Certainly a case of defamation exists if you publish a false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.  But, what if the racist remark is against a public figure, like Valerie Jarrett? Because Valerie is a public figure in the public eye, she would have to prove actual malice to prove that Barr defamed her.  Seems Valerie is leaving Barr alone on this one.

And, I’ll leave you with this -- should social media gurus, like Twitter and Facebook, be responsible and/or censor their sites for racial content, slurs and conversations?  Hmmm….not so easy to answer this one - not so sure you want your conversations monitored, let alone, deleted without notice or recourse! Happy tweeting!