Facebook’s “like” is on trial, so think twice before liking this article

There’s a deeper meaning to this thumbs up.
There’s a deeper meaning to this thumbs up.
Image: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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There are many perils associated with Facebook faux pas (for example, “liking” an ex-girlfriend’s bikini photo or unfriending a former boss), but some are becoming more serious than others—and ending in legal battles. Turns out, seemingly innocuous Facebook clicks have deeper meanings.

  • In the United States, a former prison guard is suing the city sheriff, alleging that he was fired because he “liked” the Facebook page of the sheriff’s opponent in a political race. Freedom-of-speech laws typically protect workers from discriminating based on political affiliation. (If, for example, an elected official lets you go because you put a yard sign for his opponent on your lawn, you have grounds to sue.) But last year, a Virginia judge said “the court will not attempt to infer the actual content of Carter’s posts from one click of a button on Adams’s Facebook page…for the court to assume that the plaintiffs made some specific statement without evidence of such statements is improper.” For its part, Facebook has said that its “like” function should be protected speech.
  • The same issue has been raised in Australia, where the country’s education minister, Peter Collier, is being vilified for “liking” a Facebook photo in which a 16 year-old boy was exposing himself. The photo was evidently inspired by an Australian TV show, in which a comedian subtly exposes himself in other people’s group photos. Collier says he didn’t get the joke and didn’t notice the lewd behavior when he “liked” it. But others viewed the “like” as condoning the boy’s behavior.
  • Two Indian women were arrested last year for “promoting enmity between classes” and “sending offensive messages through [a] communication service” when one posted a politically charged comment on Facebook and the other “liked” it. Regardless of whether a user should be able to express this kind of political opinion, one of the women was arrested simply for “liking” the comment.

The question is, what exactly does “liking” mean? “Liking” something on Facebook tends to suggest some positive feelings for it. Beyond that, the emotions are unclear. Does “liking” mean you support the opinion expressed in a Facebook update?  Does it mean that you appreciate a user’s right to express an opinion or start a conversation, even if you disagree? Is it meant as a “thank you”? Or maybe you were just clicking or scrolling around your news feed and you happened to click “like” on an update by accident. Notably, you can’t “dislike” something; in order to disagree with a Facebook post, you have to post your own comment. The lesson: watch what you “like,” or prepare to get burned by people other than just your ex.