Judge rules that you can be fired for "Liking" the wrong thing on Facebook

You thought things were tense at the office when you hit 'Like' on the Team Edward Facebook page when your boss was overwhelmingly Team Jacob. This case involving a sheriff's election might just make your office politics seem benign by comparison.

Top image: Detail from "Handsome Hands" by Photo Extremist on Flickr.

<a href="">Courthouse News explains:

As November 2009 elections loomed, B.J. Roberts, the sheriff of Hampton, Va., allegedly learned that six of his employees were actively supporting one of his opponents in the election, Jim Adams. Several employees had recently expressed their support for Adams by clicking the "like" function on Adams' Facebook page and by attending a barbeque fundraiser.

Uh-oh. I sense an awkward The Office-like moment coming...

Roberts then called a department meeting in which he advised the staff to get on the "long train" which him, rather than ride the "short train" with Adams, according to the six employees' complaint. After Roberts won re-election, he fired several employees, including three civilian workers and three uniformed deputy sheriffs who supported Adams.

These six booted workers, thinking their Facebook 'Like' was the cause of their dismissal, sued Roberts for violating their First Amendment rights. Their position: a Facebook 'Like' is protected free speech. U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson's position:

It is the Court's conclusion that merely "liking" a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed within the record.

Judge Jackson made it clear that Facebook posts (e.g. status updates, comments, etc.) "...constituted enough speech to be considered speaking out as a matter of public concern." This wins Facebook posts that coveted "protected speech' status. In other words, posts contain "actual statements", but Facebook "likes"? A Facebook like "...is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection."

An appeal is in the works, and meanwhile legal scholars are debating Judge Jackson's ruling. What is 'substantive'? Will it be overturned? Will "likes" get you fired?). But for now, you may want to stop "liking," but keep posting.

Image: L_amica/Shutterstock