How can clicking a Facebook Like button get you fired? When you like the Facebook page of your boss’s rival, that’s how. Deputy Sheriff Daniel Ray Carter of Hampton, Virginia, was fired from his job because he clicked Like on the page of Jim Adams, who was running for election to the post of sheriff against Carter’s incumbent boss BJ Roberts. After Roberts won the election and retained his job, he fired Carter. Carter sued on the grounds of his constitutional rights to free speech, but the judge in the case disagreed with him.
The federal judge said, “It is the Court’s conclusion that merely “liking” a Facebook page is insufficient to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed within the record.”
That’s a very strange statement because it sets a precedent (a wrong one, in my view) that there is no apparent sentiment involved in someone clicking the Like button. Surely the mere fact that Carter was suing on free speech grounds is indication that he was defending his own statement in favour of Adams. The case is going to appeal, with Facebook coming to Carter’s aid.
Quite right too that Facebook should defend the reputation and meaning of its Like button – it is the greatest example of brand marketing so far in the 21st century and many Facebook users would agree that it counts as a statement just as much as a line of text, but then there is no “don’t like” button or even “just acknowledging” button. Some may argue that Carter was clicking Like to show appreciation for the page’s design and content rather than signifying his desire for Adams to win the election, therefore if the intent behind the click is hard to decipher, how can it be a statement?
This is not the first such case of this kind. A New York judge ruled recently that an Occupy Wall Street protestor has no constitutional rights in his tweets on Twitter. Twitter is getting behind the appeal on that one.