Facebook 'like' leads to a lawsuit, sparks free speech debate

Facebook, ACLU weigh in on case of deputy sheriff who says he was fired over politics

It started in 2009 when Daniel Ray Carter, a deputy sheriff in Hampton, Va., pushed the little thumbs up button on his Facebook page. Carter's problem: He "liked" his boss's political opponent and he claims he was fired because of it.

Carter and five of his coworkers were subsequently released of their duties in the Hampton, Va. Sheriff's office after his boss won re-election. Sheriff B.J. Roberts says Carter's release was not politically motivated. Carter challenged his firing in court and the issue has created a whole new debate: Is pushing the "like" button on Facebook an act of free speech protected by the First Amendment?

RELATED: 7 steps to social media stardom 

A U.S. District Court Judge initially ruled against Carter and in favor of the sheriff, explaining in a summary judgment that "liking" something on Facebook is not free speech because there is no actual statement of speech for the record. Carter challenged the ruling and this week, Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighed in on the issue, filing amicus briefs in the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals defending Carter. The ACLU and Facebook argue that hitting the "like" button on Facebook is analogous to other forms of political expression, such as wearing a campaign button on a shirt, or posting a campaign sign on your front lawn. The ACLU warns of the slippery slope that a ruling upholding the firing could have on other actions on social media, such as retweeting a post on Twitter.

The case highlights anew the complications that come along with crafting an organization's social media policy.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies