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Posted at 08:36 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Are Facebook likes protected speech? Live chat at 11 a.m. ET!

Some behavior on Facebook definitely should get you fired. Posting constant pictures of cakes too far away for me to eat. Sharing your every infinitesimal new shade of mood. Engaging in lengthy, angry, misspelled political diatribes.

But liking?

A judge in Virginia recently ruled that a Like can get you fired.

The “Like” on trial was from a sheriff’s employee who had liked his opponent’s Facebook page.

Clicking a button, the judge ruled, was not a form of protected speech. Real, protected speech has to be, well, speech. It has to involve a word at some point, even if that word is misspelled and erratically capitalized. Heck, you can even go out and buy a flag and some kerosene and combine them innovatively, and that may turn out to be speech. The whole gist seems to be that some effort and thought is required.

But I’m not so sure. If Likes aren’t a form of speech, then I haven’t actually communicated with any human beings in over a month. This is perhaps more a sad commentary on my existence than it is a statement about what speech consists of, but still.

Besides, a Like is often worth a thousand words. Which photo in the album do you commend? The nice one where the family is sitting in an orderly fashion, smiling like stock photo cherubs? Or the unruly one where Karen’s sweater is falling off and the cat just got away? And Liking a Page can certainly be a statement. When I liked Velveeta’s Cheesy Skillets, I meant it with every fiber of my being.

This comes back to the central problem of Facebook — it’s a public forum, accessible by our employers, where we carry out the day-to-day business of friendship, hero worship, and just being fans. Next we’ll be firing people for listing Nickelback as a favorite musical artist. (“That’s definitely not protected, and I think Thomas Jefferson would agree with me.”) And as strongly as I feel about Nickelback, I have to say: that seems wrong, somehow. Penalize someone for liking something, and you might as well penalize him for thinking. To the extent that anyone is really thinking on Facebook, that is.

But maybe I’m wrong! Or perhaps you’d rather discuss something else, like college advice! Live chat at 11 a.m. ET this Tuesday!

By  |  08:36 PM ET, 05/07/2012

Tags:  Facebook

 
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