Social media sites were — and remain — a hotbed of activity following Tuesday’s re-election of President Barack Obama.
While Facebook and Twitter users have held back little in expressing strong and controversial opinions, a vitriolic post by one Statesboro woman, who was employed by a local doctor’s office, has taken on a life of its own.
Moments after the election was called in favor of four more years for America’s first black president, the woman posted a racial slur that, in just a few hours Wednesday, went viral.
The post read: “That damn (N-word) got re-elected President… God Bless the USA!!!”
She typed the N-word in all capital letters.
Attempts to reach the woman who made the comment were unsuccessful Thursday.
The comment launched a string of responses both admonishing and supporting the poster.
Some individuals came to the woman’s defense, offering the expressions “Took the words right out of my mouth” and “You go” — 11 users selected the “Like” button.
A significant number, though, were in awe of the brazen slur and made their feelings known.
“You’re disgusting He is president. Show some respect,” said one woman.
“How can you use that word in 2012?!?”
The unashamed user fired back in subsequent posts.
“Seriously (expletive deleted) off,” the woman wrote. “Find the remove friend button and delete me before I delete your (N-Word) loving (expletive deleted).”
Eventually, the thread of messages was removed from the space, and the user’s profile was temporarily, voluntarily, suspended.
Hundreds viewed the message before its removal and many more would see it later, when pictures of the conversation were posted online.
Emails and phone calls soon flooded into news outlets from people outraged at what they had seen — many upset because the woman making the offensive remarks was employed by a family medical practice in Statesboro.
An email to the Statesboro Herald read: “Are African Americans safe at this office? Does this young lady care for African Americans as she does all patients?”
The sender of the email also pondered whether the woman’s employers were aware of her feelings. As it turns out, because of several phone calls throughout the day Wednesday, they were.
Total Health Center for Family Medicine issued a statement in response to its employee’s actions
“The Associates of Total Health Center for Family Medicine respect and value all individuals and take this matter very seriously. We were saddened to learn that one of our clinic employees used her personal Facebook account to make offensive remarks,” read the statement. “The views she expressed were of her personal opinion and do not reflect the views of the clinic. We are giving thoughtful consideration to the matter and will take action as deemed appropriate.”
When asked whether disciplinary action was taken in regard to the incident, an office manager for the Total Health Center said: “We cannot say she was terminated, but she is no longer employed at the clinic.”
Ken Paulson, the president of the First Amendment Center, said that in a right-to-work state such as Georgia, private businesses have wide latitude in their ability to terminate employees. The First Amendment Center, based at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and the Newseum in Washington, D.C., is a nonpartisan educational organization that provides information on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
About the only real defense people who are terminated would have is if they are discriminated against by an employer for such reasons as their race or ethnicity, religion, gender, age or disability status.
“We live in a country in which we are free to say anything,” Paulson said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re free from being criticized. If you run a business that involves reaching out to the community you’re going to be concerned if an employee in a fairly public setting uses language that might deter some members of the community from coming to your business.”
In the workplace, he added, “free expression rights are exactly what your employer gives you.” Outside the workplace, “it gets a little more complicated” but “the bottom line is that most bosses call the shots, and they don’t have to have a lot of justification for dismissing you.”
An important exception would be public employees — such as an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office — engaging in political speech.
“If an office worker in the mayor’s office was fired for posting something on a Facebook page, that would raise a First Amendment issue,” Paulson said. “There is no such issue involving private employers.”
Word of the controversial post has spread as far as Atlanta, where a local television station posted a story chronicling the incident.
Paulson said the First Amendment Center has noted an increasing number of free-speech cases involving social media, but most of those involve public high school students posting disparaging remarks or lampoons of teachers or administrators, and schools punishing them. Because private employers have more legal leeway, there aren’t many cases involving employees’ public Internet posts.
“Employers have a tremendous amount of latitude to limit your freedom of speech,” Paulson said. “If you don’t believe that, try organizing a march on your boss’s office and see how far you get.”
Herald Editor Jason Wermers contributed to this report.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.