By Kate Knibbs
Facebook is not constitutionally protected speech, according to a federal ruling, in a case where public employees were allegedly fired over “liking” their bosses’ political opponent on their profiles.
Judge Raymond A. Jackson decided liking is fair game because users only have to click to associate, not generate text or speech. Analysts expect an appeal, and the matter, which could significantly impact hiring and firing practices within the U.S., will likely reach higher courts.
Although liking something on Facebook publicly presents a personal preference, the judge ruled it was not free speech, a decision some characterize as a mistake.
The ACLU pointed out, “Just because the Internet and social media tools are new, that does not mean they should be treated differently from more traditional forms of communication.”
Although critics say the judge’s ruling is unfair, people may want to think twice before “liking” potentially controversial topics on Facebook.
Lawmakers are trying to curtail the practice of employers and potential bosses demanding their workers’ Facebook passwords, and with good reason, as snooping through personal online correspondence is both illegal and morally dubious.
Some employers believe looking at public Facebook statuses and photos is simply smart hiring, however, and people who regularly posts inflammatory, poorly worded public statuses or pictures of themselves doing something illegal are probably not going to be solid job material.
Even if Jackson had ruled the posts are protected speech, employers still may not take kindly to hiring or retaining someone with contentious views. And Facebook is known to track which pages followers frequent, even if they do not click the Like button, so especially prudent workers may want to avoid browsing through iffy pages in case their employers somehow discover their Internet history.
At this point, Internet-savvy workers should know whatever they put on social media can probably be discovered by authority figures. Yet people continue to defy common sense, posting pictures of illegal exploits that lead to arrest and torpedoing job opportunities by flaunting scandalous pictures or using bad language publicly online.
While prudent employees may think before “liking” divisive topics, employers will do well to realize clicking a button does not always signify the person feels strongly one way or the other, and turns a temporary whim into a permanent part of a person’s online presence. Unless employers understand what they find on workers’ Facebook pages may be years old, people looking for jobs later in life may find themselves haunted by moments in college they decided to like a fringe political party, off-color joke or marijuana reference.
The man who “liked” his bosses’ political opponent, in this case, may have clicked that button before starting work, or briefly preferred him but changed his mind soon after. Liking something on Facebook takes less than a second and doesn’t allow room for nuance or an explanation. Yet it can be interpreted as a fervent declaration of support and, as this ruling underscores, be used as a basis for employment termination.
Is Zuckerberg Still the Right CEO for Facebook?
By Joe Arico
Facebook’s IPO is expected to fetch as much as $100 billion, but investors are wondering whether Mark Zuckerberg, the man responsible for much of the company’s success, is the right person to lead it into the future.
The social network’s co-founder will control a 57 percent majority of his company’s stock after it goes public later this month. Zuckerberg’s stake is worth $25 billion, but despite all he’s done to build the Facebook empire, analysts worry he may not have what it takes to be the CEO of a publicly traded super-power.
In a world where people’s moods and feelings can often be discovered just by looking at their Facebook status, Zuckerberg is far less predictable. He, much like his company, has always been a bit of a rebel. His actions in the business world are consistently inconsistent, something that’s far easier to get away with when you work for yourself than when you are answering to a room full of angry investors.
For example, Zuckerberg proclaimed publicly that Facebook was not interested in purchasing any other companies. Shortly after, he ponied up $1 billion for the photo editing mobile app Instagram, announcing the purchase on his Facebook timeline. Facebook this week acquired social discovery service Glancee, again contradicting Zuckerberg’s previous proclamation.
Maneuvers like this are likely part of the reason investors are tentative about the prospect of Zuckerberg as CEO of a publicly traded company. Major decisions such as this one can greatly affect stock price and are damaging when done suddenly and contradict something a company leader said just a few weeks earlier. And, even investors who do not question Zuckerberg’s business decisions could be weary of his often-questionable behavior.
The 27-year old CEO has proven his brilliance and matured well over the past few years, according to those who work closely with him, but there are still some growing pains. Zuckerberg was conspicuously absent at a recent meeting that brought bankers and analysts to his company’s headquarters to discuss the upcoming IPO, and he has faced criticism in the past for being completely disengaged in matters that don’t interest him.
However, fears Zuckerberg might be getting cold feet about an IPO were put to rest at a meeting about Facebook’s IPO this week in New York where Zuckerberg did show up — dressed in a pair of jeans and a hoodie.
The big shots on Wall Street may not be happy that Zuckerberg’s style and attire don’t match the level of seriousness the $100 billion sitting on the table commands, but they’re going to have to accept that none of it would be there without him.