Oh, that pesky Facebook “Like” button. It turns out that your friends seeing what you read isn’t the only think that Facebook can broadcast to get you into trouble. Now, your ‘Likes’ can be held against you.
And frighteningly, that isn’t even the news here.
A federal judge has ruled that clicking the ‘like button’ doesn’t qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It’s a mind-boggling development in the “what is OK to say and do on the Internet?” branch of business change, and while this non-attorney is pretty sure the ruling will be overturned at a higher level, please be clear that if you fall into a Like Button Trap, ‘overturned on appeal’ isn’t going to help you.
Read the story if you want the details. Here’s the short version of what matters:
Free speech, a legal tenet that seems to have been at the center of nearly every important decision that’s come out of the US Judicial System for many years, guarantees you the right to express your opinion. At its simplest level the free speech idea means that you can’t be prosecuted or otherwise punished by our government for saying what you think.
But for the moment, the rule has been interpreted to mean “only as long as you specifically say something”, and somehow pressing the Facebook Like Button doesn’t qualify as saying . . . oh . . . “I like this thing”.
How hitting the like button is different from putting a bumper sticker on your car—which is protected speech— eludes me, and that’s why there’s no chance this ruling will stand up. Again, though, as you work the business change puzzle you need to keep in mind that being told you were right years after being legally wronged isn’t the same as having been OK from start to finish.
The Business Change side of this conversation is that Free Speech has been extended to apply to private entities’ also being prohibited from punishing or discriminating against you based on your opinions, which is the root of most anti-discrimination laws. So now let’s look at the implications of Facebook, once again.
Outside the United States, Free Speech is handled differently than it is here. Last week, for example, the High Court of the UK ordered ISPs to block access to The Pirate Bay. As I told you then, the action was laughable, and it turns out I was right; traffic to the Pirate Bay has increased dramatically since the High Court Ruling.
Whether these actions take place in the USA or elsewhere, as business people our goal needs to be staying out of the snare of the legal system whenever possible. Lawyers and judges can’t even agree on what free speech is, courts pass laws at lower levels that are overturned on appeal, and some pretty egregious behavior remains protected by the free speech tenet.
Simple, right? Just don’t do or say dumb things. Like, if you have something bad to say, don’t say it on Facebook.
That’s not so tough a rule to follow, is it?