I’d Like You. But I don’t Want to Get Fired.

By Matter

We are lucky to live in a country where we can happily disagree (out loud) with each other on so many topics. But even the most polar of opposites in political opinion agree on this: we have a right to say whatever we want, so long as it doesn’t put others in harm’s way. That’s called free speech, and it’s protected by the Constitution. (I could also tell you a few things about how a bill becomes a law, thanks to a BA from Holy Cross and extensive childhood exposure to SchoolHouse Rock.)

Free speech means that if I want to walk down the hall and tell my friends in the kitchen at work that I really like that candidate running for town council, I can do that with impunity. In fact, I can tell my friends I like almost anything without fear of being arrested (or fired) because of that opinion.

Unless it’s on FaceBook. If it’s on FaceBook, liking someone or something is not free speech, according to a ruling in a case handed down this week.

We all need to exercise judgment in expressing our opinions, and social networks are no exception. But the ruling in this case was not about the opinion, it hinged on the Like button as an expression, and whether that constitutes a form of protected free speech.

So, when I Like something or someone, everybody I’m friends with knows it. And that’s a statement – isn’t it? This judge doesn’t think so. I think that’s crazy.

I’m no lawyer. But when common sense is trumped by an arcane reading of constitutional law — or  worse, a lack of understanding of the medium in which the speech occurs, we should all be worried about what’s next.