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Can Facebook Get You Fired or Worse?

Can Facebook get you fired or worse? This week, the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that hitting the “like” button on Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FBconstitutes a form of speech. The court considers that users are making a “substantive statement” when they hit the “like” button on the social media site. “Liking” something will thus fall under the protection of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is responsible for the protection of free speech.

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)

This ruling is the result of legal action taken after Sheriff B.J. Roberts fired several employees, including his deputy, Daniel Ray Carter Jr. They had supported a rival of Roberts in an election in 2009 by “liking” a page called “Jim Adams For Hampton Sheriff” on Facebook. Despite not receiving a favorable ruling in 2012, Carter appealed the decision and continued the legal battle. Receiving support from the American Civil Liberties Union and Facebook, the court decided on Wednesday that Carter was entitled to sue his former boss over the loss of his job.

The reasoning argued by the Court follows a statement put forward by an ACLU brief.  Therein, it claims that “although it requires only a click of a computer mouse, a Facebook ‘Like’ publishes text that literally states that the user likes something … [and] is, thus, a means of expressing support — whether for an individual, an organization, an event, a sports team, a restaurant, or a cause.”

In agreement with this statement, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said, “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

The ruling comes at a crucial time. Facebook has been questioned by customer data protection groups for the planned changes to its privacy policy. Furthermore, the social media giant is seeking to expand its advertisement capacity by entering the realm of video ads. The recent legal battle between the former sheriff and his ex-deputy only highlights the issues surrounding privacy rights, which the use of Facebook brings about. Problems often arise because grey areas continue to exist around commercial use of private information and protection of free speech. Also, depending on the country, Facebook users can be entitled to different types of protection, as the First Amendment ruling by a U.S. court shows. So for those wondering if Facebook can get you fired (or worse), the answer is more or less, no.

Disclosure: Pablo Erbar holds no position in any stocks mentioned

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