The ruling by a federal appeals court that a “like” or a comment on Facebook is a form of protected free speech has major implications for professional communicators. The higher court reversed a Virginia district court decision upholding the dismissal of employees in the Hampton, VA sheriff’s department four years ago because they “liked” and commented on an election opponent’s campaign Facebook page.
The court held that a “like” amounts to a digital yard sign.
Writing for the majority, Chief Judge William B. Traxler concluded, “In sum, liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
The controversy underscores yet again the importance of clear social media policies to businesses, organizations and government agencies.
As a corollary, as communications trainers, we at CommCore applaud Judge Traxler’s effective use of the yard sign metaphor to illustrate a point of law. Using “visual” analogies to illustrate a technical point to a general audience is an effective communications technique.