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Court Ruling Says Liking Something on Facebook Not Free Speech, Therefore You Can Totally Be Fired For It

the internet is serious business

Stories like this make me feel, more than ever, that I’m living in a cyberpunk world. The genre is generally about a crappy future, not a shiny future. For example, in the year 2012 we aren’t sailing through space trying to decide whether robots should be considered citizens, we’re trying to figure out whether or not clicking buttons on the internet should be protected free speech.

According to U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, it isn’t.

The case that was brought before his court was one of six former employees the Hampton, VA sheriff’s office, who were fired after their boss won his reelection. What else do they all have in common? They all “Liked” the page of his opponent on Facebook.

According to Courthouse News, after their boss became aware of this he

called a department meeting in which he advised the staff to get on the “long train” which him, rather than ride the “short train” with Adams, according to the six employees’ complaint. After Roberts won re-election, he fired several employees, including three civilian workers and three uniformed deputy sheriffs who supported Adams.

The suit the six employees levied against the sheriff was based on the argument that Liking things on Facebook constituted an expression of free speech, and therefore could not be a fireable offense. Their judge, however, has disagreed.

According to his ruling, other court cases that have classified Facebook posts as protected speech were all concerned with, well, posts. People writing words on Facebook. A “like,” according to him, isn’t enough of a statement to be speech.

Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient,” he added. “It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection. The court will not attempt to infer the actual content of [the Plaintiff’s] posts from one click of a button on Adams’ Facebook page.

Naturally, the case is in the process of being appealed, even as legal scholars pour over this distinction of “substantive” speech. So for now, you might want to be careful not to like anything but The Mary Sue’s Facebook page, where we put most of our posts from the site and fun polls and questions and pictures and stuff.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.