Facebook Likes as protected free speech
Daniel Ray Carter Jr., a sheriff's deputy in Virginia, claims he was fired because he "Liked" a Facebook post belonging to the political rival of his own boss. When he fought the firing in court, the judge ruled against him saying that clicking the "Like" button isn't protected speech: "It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection."
The case presents an interesting dilema.
On one hand, I hope we're reaching the point where most people understand that clicking the Facebook "Like" on a statement, article or page is not the equivalent of an endorsement of all the things that article/page/group stands for.
Some people surely hit the "Like" button because some part of an article or post made them think or laugh, even if they didn't read the whole thing. Some people probably hit the button by accident. It's possible for a Facebook user to be casually added to a page or group without much thought. In some cases, groups insist on your clicking of the "Like" button before you can have access to content or features you came there for - a strange (and much more publicly visible) evolution of the traditional "join our mailing list and we'll give you something free in return" marketing technique. So while prompting a Like of something might be a connection worth having, it seems like we have to be careful about ascribing strong intentions of support to any particular click of that button.
On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if we dismissed the important symbolism and "speech" that can come from simple, non-verbal actions. Whether it's a raised fist or even just standing up at all in certain settings, there are ways of communicating powerful messages without saying a word. If only for the sake of those who might be physically unable to speak words, we should be able to recognize non-verbal speech as speech potentially worth protecting.
In a world where political and cultural battle lines are increasingly being drawn as 140-character Tweets and one-liners on Facebook, we probably need to start taking someone's statements and actions in those new media as seriously as we've taken their physical and verbal analogs. (Though even if Carter's clicking of the Like button using his personal Facebook account was an outright endorsement for his boss's opponent, I can't agree with the response of terminating his employment.)
So, what do you think - should "Liking" something be protected free speech?