Facebook is spending a not-inconsiderable sum of money to make clicking the site’s “Like” button a protected form of speech. So much so that they’ve appealed a ruling against the concept and are currently making arguments in front of a federal appeals court. But why is Facebook, a company that regularly engages in actions that border on privacy supervillainy, suddenly so dedicated to free speech?
The short answer is that the case might, in the long run, destroy Facebook and have ugly implications for other social media websites if it’s allowed to stand. The case itself is one of those ridiculous items you find in the weird news section: A jailer in Hampton, VA “Liked” his boss’ political opponent, which meant the typical Facebook ad machine kicked in, and the jailer in question was promptly fired.
The question, of course, is whether clicking “Like” — and Facebook using that info in its algorithm that generates ads and such — qualifies as protected speech. Facebook’s stake, obviously, is that without the ability to use “Likes” to generate targeted ads, the site’s revenue plunges straight into the toilet.
But, more relevantly, the question of just what your employer can and can’t use on your social media presence has yet to have a definitive legal answer. A smart employer stays the hell away from your social media presence, because honestly, there’s nothing there they should want to know. Being able to establish that “Likes” are protected speech, and that you can’t be retaliated against for them, may be a case of enlightened self-interest for Facebook…but it’ll benefit all of us in the long run.