Facebook ‘Likes’ Could Get You Fired, and Legal Options are a Challenge
By Christina DesMarais
Facebook “likes” can possibly get you fired, and if you take your employer to court over the punishment you may have an uphill legal battle.
That’s what several plaintiffs found when they took the matter to the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia.
In the case Bland v. Roberts, the plaintiffs, who had worked in the Hampton, Virginia, sheriff’s office under B.J. Roberts, who was running for re-election against Jim Adams, asserted doing things to support their boss’ opponent eventually got them fired once Roberts had secured his seat. Such activities included placing a pro-Adams bumper sticker on one of their cars, attending an Adams-sponsored cookout, and “liking” Adams’ Facebook page.
The court said Roberts was not aware of these activities, except for the Facebook endorsements. Even so, his knowledge of the “likes” was inconsequential, said the court.
“[Roberts’] 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,” the court said.
Lawyer Venkat Balasubramani and associate law professor Eric Goldman disagree, and said as much in an Ars Technica story about the case.
Balasubramani said the “court veered off course in concluding that a Facebook like is not speech.”
“Maybe the court slept through Arab Spring and the many other instances of online activism in the past five years,” Balasubramani added. “Maybe the court is unaware of the robust body of First Amendment precedent which says that protection for expression is not limited to just actual words.”
Legal considerations aside, you have to admit the plantiffs’ actions were less than brilliant — careerwise anyway. Imagine if your boss was in jeopardy of losing his job and you publicly aligned yourself with his opponent. If the coup d’état fails, you’re doomed — period.
Even so, what happens within the judicial system is all about precedent, so the implications of this case certainly will have broader implications beyond this case.
What’s your view? Who’s the idiot here — the judge, the plaintiffs or the defendant?