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Post Facebook Apology, Or Face Jail. You Pick

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 27, 2012 5:04 AM

An Ohio man's Facebook rant violated a restraining order, so a judge gave him a choice: Post a Facebook apology to his estranged wife, or face 60 days in jail.

Mark Byron's court-ordered Facebook apology comprises five paragraphs and more than 200 words, and must be reposted every day for 30 days, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

"It's outlandish," Byron told the Enquirer, though he is complying with the order. (You can view Mark Byron's Facebook page here.) "I'm afraid to do anything. People are even fearful that Facebook can be regulated by a judge."

Mark Byron is seeking a divorce from his wife Elizabeth, and is fighting for custody of the couple's young son. A prior domestic incident led to a restraining order that barred Mark from causing his wife "mental abuse, harassment, [or] annoyance," according to court records.

But last fall, Mark Byron vented frustrations about his court battles on Facebook, referring to his wife as "an evil, vindictive woman." That post, along with comments by Mark's friends, violated the restraining order, the court found, according to the Enquirer.

But one legal observer said Elizabeth Byron wasn't harassed. Mark Byron had blocked his wife from viewing his Facebook page -- which means Elizabeth had to go out of her way to access it, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said. "She deliberately sought this out," he told the Enquirer.

The court-ordered Facebook apology also raises First Amendment concerns, because it seems to be court-compelled speech, the EFF attorney said. Mark Byron really had no choice but to comply, he said.

Regardless, Mark Byron has reposted the court-approved Facebook apology every day since the ruling. He's also under orders to pay his wife's legal fees related to his Facebook rant.

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