Social media posts put cheerleaders and detective in hot water

Updated: Nov. 10, 2016 at 7:02 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Social media posts have some University of Louisville cheerleaders and an LMPD detective in hot water.

One or more cheerleaders are on investigative suspension for election-related tweets. The detective is on a 30-day suspension without pay for what the chief called an inappropriate Facebook post.

Rules of free speech may be different for some people in the public eye. Experts told WAVE 3 News that's especially true when you're talking about a police officer who represents his department and his community or a cheerleader who in some respects represents the university.

"We don't think what we're sharing with our quote, unquote friends on social media is seen much more broadly, particularly when you're in a public position," said Indiana University Southeast Journalism Assistant Professor Adam Maksl.

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A public position like a police officer or a university cheerleader comes under tougher scrutiny on social media.

At UofL, Spirit Coordinator Todd Sharp was alerted to some Twitter posts by Brynn Baker on election night. She stated in part, to someone upset about the outcome, "Take a pill, you act like you came off a boat." Another tweet read, "You all want sympathy so bad, shut the ___ up about racism, sexism, whateverism, find the money to leave America then."

Sharp said he was very troubled by the exchanges. In a statement he said:

"As the Head Spirit Coach and Spirit Coordinator, I am very troubled and concerned about the exchanges that took place in social media late last evening involving one or more of our student athletes. We have worked very hard to build a successful and incredibly diverse spirit program here at the University.  These conversations over the last day are not an accurate representation of our program, our values, or our coaching staff. We are investigating this matter and will take appropriate action upon the completion of such."

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Football player James Hearns, who was upset by Baker's post, tweeted, "I definitely don't want Brynn Baker cheering at any games and definitely not cheering for us."

Several months ago, LMPD Detective Ryan Scanlan shared a meme on Facebook that read, "If we wanted you dead, we'd stop patrolling your neighborhoods and wait."

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"They almost see the share button almost akin to the like button," Maksl said.

Courts have ruled that private and even government employers have the right to restrict some speech. The same practice could apply for extra-curricular activities like cheerleading at a university.

Even if you're not in the public eye, social media posts could also affect future employment.

"You have 500 friends on Facebook," Maksl explained, "you never know when one of those 500 friends might be a future boss."

Scanlan has been demoted from detective to uniformed patrol.

The University won't say how many cheerleaders are involved in its investigative suspension, or if others are in trouble for responding to the tweets. Sharp's statement mentioned one or more student athletes were involved.

Copyright 2016 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.