Facebook 'Likes' not protected as free speech, judge rules

In the social media era, most people likely consider their Facebook "Likes" to be the ultimate in free expression — a statement that says something fundamental about their values and tastes. But employers may not see it that way, and now  ZDNet reports that a judge has ruled that employees who are fired for liking something on Facebook have no legal remedy under the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson issued the ruling in a case brought by six civilian employees of the Hampton, Va., sheriff's department. One of the plaintiffs, Daniel Ray Carter, was fired after he "liked" his boss' opponent on Facebook in a 2009 sheriff's election. He filed suit, claiming the firing was retaliation that violated his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The question at issue in the plaintiff's retaliation case was whether the act of clicking the "Like" button on Facebook represents enough of a substantive statement to merit free speech protection under the First Amendment. Jackson ruled that it does not.

"It is the court's conclusion that merely 'liking' a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection," Jackson wrote in his ruling.

The larger issue, as Connor Simpson of the Atlantic Wire points out, could be whether a Facebook "Like" constitutes an endorsement. Many Facebook pages, Simpson points out, require a "Like" to access or post messages to Walls or Timelines. And, Simpson adds, "liking" a page is the only way to subscribe to it and ensure its updates appear in your News Feed.

Carter's case is not the only recent example of Facebook activity getting people in trouble at work. Mashable reports that Marine Corps Sgt. Gary Stein was given an "other-than-honorable" discharge last month after posting on the Armed Forces Tea Party's Facebook page that he would refuse to follow orders given by President Barack Obama.

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Reader comments

Wed, May 9, 2012

He should've just told his boss that he was following the opponent's page for competitive intel purposes. I would be shocked, shocked to find people following the opposition on social media. :) But this case I would assume would be turned over in higher courts. "Liking" is an expression of oppinion which is the essence of what free speech is about. But of course free speech doesn't mean you can't get fired, people can get fired for any number of stupid reasons without recourse. It is the concept of "at will employment"

Tue, May 8, 2012

Here's a riddle,"What do you call a lawyer with an IQ of 10?" Answer, "Your Honor." This is just another case of an activist judge legislating. Amusing how a dollar bill constitutes free speech and "Liking" an opposition candidate does not. Go get 'em Solomon.

Tue, May 8, 2012 BobWASHDC

Firing or penalizing someone for simply clicking “Like” in order to learn more of an individual, group or organization does not in and of itself constitute and enforcement of the ideas or values of the web presentation. If the facts of the case were a model of presumed endorsement of beliefs or values then the employer and the judge acted as members of the Joseph McCarthy- Army Hearings see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army%E2%80%93McCarthy_hearings and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCarthy. A New York newspaper 's reader-translator of 'Russia's newspapers Pravda and Izvestia found him self under attack for simply reading and writing translations of for his employer. Some persons act as demigods to deny others the use of original sources to be translated into English from another language because the original source has been assigned a tabu status. The demigod wishes to limit “facts” the those they allow. “a virgin has never been deflowered reading a book. “ Unattributed quote captures the essence of my thoughts on the topic.

Tue, May 8, 2012

Is holding a sign in a rally saying "I like Conservatives" protected speech? What's the difference?

Tue, May 8, 2012

I didn't see anything that said he was on the clock when he liked the page. The issue I have a problem with is "how much speech is too little to be considered free?" And who decides?

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