We all know it’s true. Photographs and other Facebook posts that depict users binge drinking, drugging, having spousal dalliances, etc., have the potential to get employees fired or prevent them from ever getting hired.
But now it appears that even liking a Facebook page can get an employee canned.
That’s what happened when a deputy sheriff and four colleagues in Hampton, VA were caught “liking” the Facebook campaign page of a rival sheriff candidate. Just after his re-election in 2009, Sheriff B.J. Roberts gave the five employees their walking papers.
Following their termination, the slighted employees brought suit for wrongful termination against Roberts on grounds that their constitutional right to free speech had been violated.
Carter and crew claim they were engaging in political speech when clicking the thumbs up icon on the opposing candidate’s page. The Sheriff’s position; however, is that a Facebook “like” is not speech, and therefore is not entitled to the protections of the law.
The First Amendment-focused case has made its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit after a Virginia-based District Court Judge sided with the Sheriff’s argument.
The case has created such buzz that Facebook and the ACLU submitted friend of the court briefs in support of Carter’s free-speech position. The groups compare a Facebook “like” to wearing a button. The “like” appears on the user’s page and again in their newsfeed for viewing by other Facebook friends. A Washington Post article (link) indicates that Facebook users hit the “like” button and make comments nearly 3 billion times each day. That’s billion with a “B”.
And these scenarios won’t go away any time soon. Mashable.com study reports that 33% of young people in the U.S. between 18-25 are Facebook friends with their bosses. (link) Amazingly, this same group does little, if anything, to privatize their pages and tailor the content available for viewing by “friended” bosses.
The outcome of this First Amendment case will have profound implications for Facebook users, who now number almost 1 billion. Until the ruling, employees may think twice about clicking around on social media sites. Your boss may not “like” what he sees.