For Americans who have been whimsically liking memes, articles, videos, and other forms of content throughout the Internet, I bring tidings of great joy. Hitting the ‘Like’ button officially constitutes free speech.
A federal appeals court sided with the defendant in a case of wrongful termination where a deputy sheriff in Hampton, VA was fired for liking the page of his boss’ opponent in the city sheriff’s race.
The court decided that clicking ‘like’ constitutes free speech because it is essentially the same as saying or writing out that you actually like something.
While six former employees of the sheriff’s office went to court for the unlawful firing, only one brought the case that merely clicking ‘like’ constituted free speech. While all six claimed that they were fired for supporting their boss’ opponent, the other five argued their case on more traditional First Amendment grounds.
Social media protection laws have been growing in popularity throughout the year. As of this writing, 36 states have at least one bill in the House or Senate to protect job seekers and current employees from social media discrimination. Most cover the following two instances.
First, employers cannot hire one candidate over another based solely on their social media presence. In the same way that hiring or not hiring someone because they’re black, gay, or female is illegal, not hiring someone because they post expletive-filled political rants is against the law.
In the second part, current employees are allowed to post freely on social sites without fear of repercussion. A group of employees cannot be fired because they ranted about the company, a boss, or a coworker online.
This past year, social media speech – and Facebook in particular – has made great strides in relevancy.
In April, the SEC gave its stamp of approval to blogs and social networking sites to announce investor news and make company updates. Before the SEC updated its policies, any Facebook post about company numbers that weren’t already disclosed via press release was considered insider trading.
This was because half of investors would see the update, but the other half that weren’t on Facebook wouldn’t. The SEC made it clear that public companies need to direct investors to the page or blog where the news will be announced. As long as the location of the information is made public, posting updates on blogs and social networks is an honest way to disclose company information.
Not all companies may opt to publish major corporate announcements via social media, but the First Amendment news is music to the ears of trolls ever. In my magic crystal ball, I predict trolls the country over resurrecting the traditional, “First amendment, I can say whatever I want!” argument that was so popular on our childhood playgrounds.
Remember, just because you can say something online without repercussion doesn’t mean you should.