Facebook has filed a legal brief on behalf of Daniel Ray Carter, who was fired by a Virginia sheriff along with five coworkers after they Liked the Facebook page of their boss' political opponent. Carter and his fellow plaintiffs said that Liking the page should be a protected first amendment right, but in May, Fourth Circuit Judge Raymond Jackson ruled against them.
Monday's brief from Facebook sharply disputed that ruling. "If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, 'I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,' there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech," the company's filing reads. "Carter made that very statement; the fact that he did it online, with a click of a computerÃ¢Â€Â™s mouse, does not deprive CarterÃ¢Â€Â™s speech of constitutional protection." The network's brief received a commendation from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has also come out in support of constitutional protection for online activity.
The case is one of several that will help give some definition to the murky legal boundaries of online activities. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that a group of employees from the nonprofit Hispanics United be reinstated after they were fired for posting complaints about workload on Facebook. But it seems that the government has attempted to set itself a separate set of standards. For instance, a marine was discharged from service earlier this year after posting a Facebook status criticizing President Obama. And many teachers have been placed under extra scrutiny too for their actions on the network.
It seems like either side could make a case. Clearly, employees should have a right to free speech as guaranteed by the first amendment. But can you blame a boss for wanting to give the axe to someone who wasn't supporting their business, either in their personal or digital life? And should government employees be held to different rules than the general public? The disputes will certainly take some time to resolve, and you can expect to see plenty of legal fireworks as the decisions are made.
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