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Facebook 'Likes' Aren't Protected Speech 214

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-like-a-fire-in-a-crowded-theater dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In what may win awards for the silliest-sounding lawsuit of the year, a case about whether Facebook 'likes' qualify for free speech protection under the First Amendment has ended in a decisive 'no.' In the run-up to an election for Sheriff, some of the incumbent's employees made their support for the challenger known by 'liking' his page on Facebook. After the incumbent won re-election, the employees were terminated, supposedly because of budget concerns. The employees had taken a few other actions as well — bumper stickers and cookouts — but they couldn't prove the Sheriff was aware of them. The judge thus ruled 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.'"
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Facebook 'Likes' Aren't Protected Speech

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  • by theedgeofoblivious (2474916) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:22PM (#39834125)

    On what planet is money a form of speech but indicating your support for something not?

  • Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:27PM (#39834157)
    Considering that the federal government has caused researchers to lose their jobs over entire books their have published, it is hardly surprising that such a minute form of expression would not be considered "protected."
  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:32PM (#39834187)

    You can be fired for your Facebook likes, but since they don't count as free speech theoretically this means the government could regulate them.

    It's an unfortunate decision that's likely to become a precedent for future cases where your free speech will be further restricted.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:40PM (#39834221)

    On a capitalist one, apparently.

  • Re:Burden of proof (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sycomonkey (666153) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:57PM (#39834295) Homepage
    There are disadvantages to that. I'm specifically thinking of the flexibility of the job market: In the course of being edged out by competitors or a changing market, an employer might hold on to their workforce longer than they should out of fear of being sued for wrongful dismissal. That makes the entire economy less capable of adjusting to disruptive technologies and global market realities. That being said, in the US we tend to avoid this to kind of an absurd level. Most states are right-to-work, where you can be fired (or quit) for no reason whatsoever. And even in states were that is not the case, it is often practically impossible to sue for wrongful dismissal except in particularly egregiousness cases like discrimination (and you can still get sued for that in RtW states anyway).
  • Re:the government (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:02PM (#39834323)

    Wait, but the people were asking the government for help getting their jobs back...if you're on of those "gubmint is evil" republican wacko types why would this say the government is evil? It just protected a job creators rights! Isn't that would you dudes want? Job creators to rule us all with no pesky gubmint to defend anyone? In this case the government didn't do anything, how can that make it evil from a libertarian perspective? I mean isn't that what you want? The government to do nothing?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:06PM (#39834333)

    Oh please. This is a slam dunk for appeal. The judge simply didn't get it.

  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:07PM (#39834341)

    One which will not be upheld if it makes it to the supreme court.

  • Re:Burden of proof (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:22PM (#39834393)

    There are disadvantages to that. I'm specifically thinking of the flexibility of the job market: In the course of being edged out by competitors or a changing market, an employer might hold on to their workforce longer than they should out of fear of being sued for wrongful dismissal. That makes the entire economy less capable of adjusting to disruptive technologies and global market realities.

    That's a feature, not a bug. Entrepreneurs are precisely the people who should bear the risks of the market, since they also get the profits. This way employees have more job security and employers have a motivation to train their employees rather than fire them and hire new ones. Both of these help stabilize the economy.

    Also, there is no such thing as "market reality". The "market" is a purely social construct and as such can be altered at will. Just look at the financial industry if you don't believe me: trillions of dollars can vanish overnight, yet nothing in the physical reality changes.

  • Re:Burden of proof (Score:5, Insightful)

    by happyhamster (134378) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:31PM (#39834475)

    These are not "disadvantages", but the way decent society should work. The utterly unethical, immoral treatment of workers in "right-to-throw-you-out-on-a-whim" states as warm spare parts has to stop. It's not producing a healthy society I'd like my kids to grow up in. Economy is important, but it should not take precedence over a healthy society where most workers have stable careers and can afford to have families and raise children in economic security.

  • Re:What the hell? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gorobei (127755) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:42PM (#39834543)

    This is not true if you are talking about government positions, other than the military (why should they be expected to enjoy the freedoms they are supposedly dying for?).

    As I am sure you know, the military holds a unique position in any government (they have the guns, and thus the ability to effect change unilaterally.) That's why we severely constrain what a soldier can do when representing himself as a soldier. In the old days, "crossing the Rubicon" was automatic treason, not an expression of freedom.

  • by Mysteryprize (2466438) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:43PM (#39834555)
    If you want to follow any discussion taking place on a facebook page, you usually have to "Like" it first. The word implies that you are supporting it, but you might just do it for the sake of curiosity, not to show how you genuinely feel about a subject.
  • by superwiz (655733) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:43PM (#39834565) Journal
    Fortunately, you can move when you local government goes psycho. The larger the government which you allow to go psycho, the harder it is to move to get away from it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @08:29PM (#39834819)
    No, the first amendment only bars congress and the government from making laws that limit free speech, it doesn't mean they can't fire you for what you say.
  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pfhorrest (545131) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @10:16PM (#39835219) Homepage Journal

    Something about this story sounds completely backward in every way, and maybe someone here can explain if it's the judge, the writer/editor, or just me who is sorely confused.

    First of all, insufficient to count as free speech? Have we really come so far from not only the letter but even the spirit of the First Amendment that only certain special classes of speech deserve protection from censorship, rather than (as the law literally states) all speech being completely protected, or at least (as courts have long interpreted) only certain egregiously dangerous speech, such as credible incitement to violence, deserving censorship? Is it really now no longer "is this dangerous enough to censor it?" but "is this acceptable enough to permit it?"

    Second of all, who is censoring who here? Someone got fired because their boss didn't like their opinion. In a private business (see next sentence before you jump on this) that's perfectly fine; freedom of association and all that, I don't have to work for people I don't like and I shouldn't have to let people I don't like work for me either; I've quit a job in part because of the owner's political expressions, why should the other way around be any different. In this case it's a public agency so I can see some stricter rules for hiring and firing being required, but nevertheless, in any case, this is a wrongful termination issue, not a free speech issue. This is not the government telling you "you are not allowed to say X"; this is an employer saying "we won't employ people who support Y". How the hell did this become an issue of free speech at all?

  • Re:Burden of proof (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Sunday April 29, 2012 @08:26AM (#39837145)

    By "market reality" I meant things such as the fact that China exists, or that Widgets cost 3x as much to make in country A than in country B.

    Do the Widgets really cost 1/3rd to make in country B? Or does country B simply lack enviromental and worker safety laws, thus allowing the manufacturer to shift parts of the cost to the rest of the society? Perhaps it even lacks minimum wage laws and forbids unions, thus giving the manufacturer access to slave labour, again shifting costs to other people.

    It would in the best interests of country A to protect itself through the use of toll barriers, and convince as many other countries as possible to do likewise. Otherwise the Red Queen's Race it'll run is a tailspin to the bottom. We're already seeing signs of this, with both people and countries getting more and mroe in debt in a hopeless attempt to maintain a qualit of life their parents could without problems with decades-older technology.

    Facts that affect markets.

    Facts which are usually half-truths at best, and only affect anything because they're allowed to. In China's case their "market advantage" is not that they're efficient, but that they're ruled by Mao "nuclear war is winnable because only half of chinese will die in it" Zedong's heirs who'll do things like paint children's toys with lead paint. That any country allows Chinese children's toys - or any Chinese products for that matter - to be imported is due to free trade ideology, not any "market fact".

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