A friend of mine left Facebook this weekend. I’ve sworn off using my personal Facebook accounts on Fridays. We were both getting tired of the noise.
Now I’m afraid I’m inadvertently endorsing candidates.
In 2009, a Virginia sheriff was running for re-election, and found that six of his deputies had “liked” the Facebook campaign page of his opponent. The sheriff won another term, and fired all six of them soon after.
The deputies sued, and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court has ruled they were fired in retaliation of using their free speech. The ruling added the simple click of the “Like” button to previous protections for written statements delivered via Facebook.
“On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘Like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement,” Judge William B. Traxler Jr. said in the majority opinion, adding that, “the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable.”
I agree with the ruling in the sense that a sheriff isn’t protecting and serving if political loyalty trumps job performance. But I can’t agree with the logic the court used.
Campaigning for political offices is relentless and sometimes brow-beating, depending on who’s running for what. Part of that process is getting your message out, and most candidates compile a contact list to send out press releases for media outlets or their personal campaign sites.
Many candidates supplement that effort with a Facebook page, which has its own advantages. A well-done Facebook post works like a press release, except it reaches people without media filters, and people can instantly ask questions via comment or private message if something about the post isn’t clear. Play a game of phone tag with a candidate’s deputy communications director and you know how valuable that is.
But receiving this information demands you either “like” that candidate’s page or you add that candidate as a Facebook friend. Facebook then tells your friends what you have done, albeit without context.
You visit voteforbob.com because you want to know where Bob is going to be. You “like” Bob’s Facebook page so you can find out where Bob is going to be. Are we sure that one is simply an information search, and the latter is a full-throated endorsement? Is it really unmistakable?
Or what about the cases where a guy follows the opposition around with a camera, hoping to capture a “gotcha” moment? He’d better not click the “Like” button to stay apprised of campaign stops, because that is an unmistakable endorsement.
Same thing with having Facebook friends. I have friends who I believe were not born, but instead built in labs with superior parts from lesser human beings. I have friends who make me question the definition of literacy. Most of them are eligible to run for some sort of office, but my vote isn’t a perk of Facebook friendship. They have to earn it by being the most qualified.
The takeaway? Context matters. To paraphrase from “The Wonder Years,” do you like him or do you like him like him? A button isn’t enough to tell us either way.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email: