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May 8, 2012

Like Something on Facebook? You Could Get Fired

Oh, how powerful Facebook has become. We all know that doing something stupid and then posting a picture of it on Facebook may affect your future job aspirations. Or even your current ones if you call in sick and then post photos of you living it up on the beach.

The Onion recently did a hilarious piece on how, due to Facebook and other social media, every conceivable Presidential candidate for the 2040 election is already unelectable due to what they've posted on social media sites.

But can you really get fired for just pushing that little "Like" button on a Facebook page, blog, or whatever?

Apparently you can.

A judge in Virginia has recently ruled that "Liking" something on Facebook is not protected free speech. (h/t: CNET)

That's right. If you "Like" something on Facebook that goes counter to your boss or company philosophy or whatever, this judge is saying you have no legal recourse if they fire you for it. You can say "I like stewed clams" and you're fine. But if you find a Facebook page extolling the virtues of stewed clams and click that little button, your clam-hating boss can fire you for it.

This came up when six workers in the sheriff's office in Virginia "Liked" Sheriff B.J. Roberts' opponent in his re-election bid in 2009.

Understandably miffed, he let them all go. The workers sued, and believe it or not, Roberts has won the case. Roberts says that they were fired for other reasons, but the basis of their suit was that their First Amendment rights had been violated. Judge Raymond A. Jackson said "Whoa, Nelly! Hold on a minute."

Actually, he didn't say that (but wouldn't that be funny?)

This is a bit more accurate:
"While public employees are allowed to speak as citizens on matters of public concern, Judge Raymond A. Jackson of Federal District Court ruled that clicking the “like” button did not amount to expressive speech. In other words, it was not the same as actually writing out a message and posting it on the site."
I really find this offensive, even though I'm not a big fan of the "Like" button anyway (I have used it, obviously, but still don't really care for it).

Saying "I like podcasts" is expressing an opinion that you like podcasts. Clicking the "Like" button on a podcast page is expressing an opinion that you like podcasts.

How are they any different? They're both opinions, and last I looked, you're free to have an opinion and give that opinion to anybody else (whether they actually want it or not is a different story).

Obviously, this will get appealed to a higher level, and somebody much higher on the judge food chain than Jackson is going to be making a final decision on this topic. Maybe even the Supreme Court?

Whatever the case, though, I can't believe that the expressing of *any* opinion can be considered "not protected" as free speech. I'm not one to overreact (though this was me and some friends and co-workers when the store ran out of Mountain Dew one time)...

(Thanks to Tennessee Guerilla Women)
but I think this opens the door to some place that we as a society don't want to go. When one opinion is suppressed, no matter what manner that opinion is expressed, where does it end? (Obviously I'm not including ways that are actually against the law, like spray-painting your opinion on your local official's forehead or something)

Next do they rule that your opinion isn't protected because you didn't put it on proper 3x5 index cards and present it on the proper type of soapbox on the street corner?

I really hope this ruling gets overturned.


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