That's what six sheriff's deputies say happened to them after
they 'liked' the political opponent of their boss. A district judge
ruled that Facebook likes aren't protected speech, but the case is
Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging a
Virginia judge's ruling that determined "liking" certain content on
Facebook is not protected speech for public employees.
In April, US District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk, Va.,
threw out a wrongful termination suit by six former employees of the
Hampton Sheriff's Department. They said their firing last year was
retaliation for "liking" the political opponent of Hampton Sheriff
B.J. Roberts in an election.
Judge Jackson said that, while public employees can speak as
citizens about public concerns, meaning it is constitutionally
protected speech, the privilege does not extend to symbolic
expression - such as clicking a like button to follow a certain
cause, person, or group.
"Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient. It is not the
kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted
constitutional protection," Jackson wrote in his ruling.
Sheriff Roberts fired the deputies following the election, which
he won. According to the appeal brief for the deputies, he had
issued a warning before the election that they stay off the Facebook
page of his opponent, which they said indicated their firings were
linked to their social-media actions. Roberts told the Associated
Press that the terminations resulted from poor job performance and
that their actions online "hindered the harmony and efficiency of
The six deputies are appealing the court ruling to the Fourth
Circuit Court of Appeals. On Monday, the ACLU filed an amicus brief
supporting the appeal. That brief describes Jackson's conclusion,
distinguishing symbolic action from written postings, as
"Under the district court's reasoning, affixing a bumper sticker
to your car, pinning a campaign pin to your shirt, or placing a sign
on your lawn would be devoid of meaning absent further information,
and therefore not entitled to constitutional protection because of
the minimal effort these actions require. All of these acts are, of
course, constitutionally protected," the brief reads.
In its own amicus brief, filed Monday, Facebook said Jackson's
ruling was "based on an apparent misunderstanding of the way
Facebook works" and that the "resulting decision clashes with
decades of precedent and bedrock First Amendment principles. …