Facebook Like Merits Constitutional Protection Says Court of Appeals

Facebook Like Merits Constitutional Protection Says Court of Appeals

Those Virginia Sheriff elections can get kinda heated.

When Jim Adams decided in 2009 to run against 17-year incumbent B.J. Roberts for the post of Sheriff in Hampton City, Virginia, little did he know he'd be kicking off a train of events that would lead to the Court of Appeals pronouncing the Facebook Like as protected speech under the Constitution. That's the decision that was handed down September 18th by Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr. "In sum, liking a political candidate's campaign page communicates the user's approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it," said Chief Judge Traxler. "In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech."

It got this far because Roberts, on seeing that half a dozen of his staff had hit the Like button when Adams announced his candidacy on Facebook, made sure that all six weren't given their jobs back when Roberts won re-election. "It is worth noting, however, that there is no indication that Sherriff Roberts was under a misapprehension of the law," the court notes. "At his disposition, Roberts stated that he did not believe he was entitled to fire the plaintiffs 'for political reasons.'" But there were some indications that suggested this was precisely what had happened, and so they went to court, only to be turned back at the first hurdle when a Federal District judge said a Facebook Like wasn't significant enough to count as protected speech. Up pops Facebook and the ACLU, which file an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs, and then the Court of Appeals had its say.

Now the case goes back to the lower courts, which will have the final say on whether or not the terminated plaintiffs get their jobs back. Given that their old boss was the fella who allegedly said "that he would be Sheriff for as long as he wanted and that his train was the 'long train'" - guess whose was the short train - according to the Court of Appeals, perhaps they oughtn't to be in such a hurry. Nevertheless, it's a win for Facebook if nothing else; now you can Like with the knowledge that it's protected speech.

Source: Ars Technica

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A win for facebook - and political expression online in general - but it'll be interesting to see if those cops get their jobs back

I don't really understand how it 'not being significant enough to count as protected speech' even can be an issue.

Surely the issue is that he fired them (or didn't give them their jobs back, does it mean all the staff loses their jobs automatically when the sheriff changes?) over their political views, real or perceived?

If he did it because a magical talking stork told him in a dream those people voted for the other candidate, wouldn't the issue still be the same, just how he found out their views (or thought he did) changes.

Lieju:
I don't really understand how it 'not being significant enough to count as protected speech' even can be an issue.

Surely the issue is that he fired them (or didn't give them their jobs back, does it mean all the staff loses their jobs automatically when the sheriff changes?) over their political views, real or perceived?

If he did it because a magical talking stork told him in a dream those people voted for the other candidate, wouldn't the issue still be the same, just how he found out their views (or thought he did) changes.

Yeah, but you can't always count on bizarre dreams about birds to get you dirt on your employees. You can, however, look around the Internet and find out what they like and don't like what they support and don't support and where they do most of their shopping if you pay real close attention or they are those awful "I hit SHARE every time I buy a thing!" people.

The ruling means that, should they do that - and then fire someone - there's going to be a suspicion that a person was fired for a reason not related to work, but to their personal preferences politically, religiously, or socially. That's a big no-no. You can get fired for dozens and dozens of things in those categories, provided the people who fired you have something - plausible deniability - "no, we had no idea the doctor we fired last week was politically active on one side of whatever issue." The list of things that are "protected speech" are those places where they are not supposed to say they learned things about their employees, so they know not to mention they used them when they fire someone in the future. In my state, we got bored with that apparently, and people can just be fired for "no reason" whenever.

That's damn cynical I know, but... it's that kind of morning.

Wait... why exactly is not rehiring campaign staff, who explicitly showed support for his opponent in an election, a federal case? Was someone directly fired over this? or were they simply not rehired, the equivalent of a President choosing a new cabinet after election?

OT: Meh. This isn't anything that should surprise anyone except fools who still consider Facebook and the like to be anything but public.

And yet because of the Hatch Act I can't "Like" candidates who are in active races. Thanks, government.

SO liking somone on facebook now gets you fired? wow did we went overboard with this.

 

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