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Is Clicking "Like" On Facebook Free Speech? Apparently Not.

If you’re like most folks on Facebook, you’re probably using that “like” button all willy-nilly and clicking at it for all sorts of random things, companies, people, and statuses.

Might want to slow down that “like” trigger finger.

Turns out if you click “like” for, say, a company that competes with yours, or a website that trashes your boss, or even if you want to support a candidate that is opposing your current boss you might get fired, and the courts won’t help you.

Yep.

According to the Atlantic Monthly:

“In 2009, Bobby Bland, David Dixon, Robert McCoy, John Sandhofer, and Debra Woodward were employed in the Hampton, Virginia Sheriff’s office under B.J. Roberts. In November of that year, Roberts ran for re-election, and Bland and his colleagues, among other moves of subtle insubordination, took to their Facebook accounts to like the campaign of Roberts’ opponent, Jim Adams. Roberts ended up winning the election. He then — having seen those likes — chose not to retain Bland and the others as employees.”

The issue boils down to this: the judge in the case declared that a “like” wasn’t a “substantial statement” and therefore isn’t considered free speech.

Yeah.

From the decision (emphasis mine):

Knowledge of the posts only becomes relevant if the court finds the activity of liking a Facebook page to be constitutionally protected. It is the court’s conclusion that merely “liking” a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed within the record.

I’ll confess that I understand where the court is coming from, even though I don’t necessarily agree; I don’t personally consider hitting the “like” button to be a significant statement. I’ll like Facebook pages for brands because a friend asks me to because they know the owner of the brand, and I won’t examine what that brand does all that closely before I “like” it.

So perhaps if we start treating the “like” button as a substantial statement, the courts will do. The case is, of course, ripe for appeal, so stay tuned.

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