Do You “Like” Free Speech On Facebook?

“Likes” are free speech — at least according to Facebook, which recently filed a legal brief in support of Daniel Ray Carter and a group of workers who were fired from a Virginia sheriff’s office after they “liked” their boss’s political opponent on Facebook.

Facebook jumped into the legal fray after a federal District Court ruled that “[s]imply liking a Facebook page is insufficient [to qualify as free speech]…It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection.”

Facebook’s brief states that “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, ‘I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,’ there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech…Carter made that very statement; the fact that he did it online, with a click of a computer mouse, does not deprive Carter’s speech of constitutional protection.”

The full stories can be found on Tecca and Yahoo.

Are Facebook “likes” free speech?  Probably.  Should Carter have been fired for his “like”?  Probably.  Just because you can say something, does not mean that there are no consequences. 

This certainly will be an interesting issue to follow.

You don’t own your tweets

In his ruling, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. said, “If you post a tweet, just  like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of  privacy.”

The excerpt is taken from a good layperson’s overview of the case and law that can be found here.  The ruling has its genesis in a trespass prosecution connected with the Occupy movement.

Here is a worthy comment on the context of the decision from Natasha Lennard at Salon:

Of course, the lesson to take away is to tweet with caution. It’s also worth keeping in mind that, although throwing up some important insights, this court battle began over a charge for marching on a bridge. As Stolar puts it, “It’s prosecutorial overkill; using a sledgehammer to squash a gnat.” Harris agrees. He is (as he tends to be) disappointed in the state and surprised that a Harvard Law-trained ADA’s time is being used to pursue his minor charge. The precedent set, however, should give pause to those of us who live (perhaps too much of) our lives through Twitter.

The Ethics of Cyber Mooching

David Sirota explores the question:

Healthy interpersonal relationships always involve a careful dance around the hard-to-define line between friendly sharing and selfish mooching. Homeowners wonder: How many times is it OK to ask to borrow my poorer neighbor’s lawn mower? Family members ponder: How often can I ask to borrow the museum pass from my economically equal cousin? Friends consider: How frequently can I ask to use a wealthier buddy’s NBA season tickets? In each of these questions (and you know you’ve asked yourself one of these), we are really asking when the other person will think we’ve crossed the Mooch Line, and when that person will angrily implore us to just save up and buy what we want for ourselves.

In the Internet age of frictionless data transfer, such unanswered — and potentially unanswerable — queries are now even more pervasive. Whether sharing legally (lending Kindle books, etc.) or illegally (ripping DVDs, pilfering Netflix or an MLB.com pass, etc.), whom we ask and how much we ask them for are ethical quandaries whose rules shift depending on familial connection, types of friendship and economic status (among other factors). (A disclaimer: Nothing in this article condones any illegal sharing of anything. It is only to acknowledge that such illegal sharing does, in fact, occur — and then to explore the ethical implications of that kind of behavior.)

Sirota presents three options to avoid mooching:

Option 1 is bartering. If someone gives you something that they are paying for, return the favor with something they want that you already have or purchase. Lend them a Kindle book. Let them have access to your Wi-Fi network. Something.

Option 2 is putting up some cash to help defray the cost of what you are getting. In the case of HBO Go, TechCrunch’s data tell us that many believe a fair market price is something along the lines of $12 a month (less than the full HBO subscription, but still fair because you don’t get all of the versatility of that subscription).

Option 3 is getting the service in question from someone higher on the economic food chain, preferably within your family, where (theoretically) the Mooch Line is a bit more forgiving, and where parents and grandparents in particular have a near ancestral obligation to permit mooching.

Do the same options work for pirated content? They arguably do as between the moocher and moochee, although they don’t do anything to address the injured content distributor.

Personally (in the context of legal sharing only, of course), I usually go with Option 1, in the form of looking for opportunities to help those who have shared with me, rather than in the form of outright bartering.

Attorney General Fights Unethical Home Improvement Contractors

There is a little known law in the New York General Business Law (Article 36-A) that requires most home improvement contractors to state in writing the services they will provide.  The law is based in ethics and overall good general business practices.  Unfortunately, a lot of contractors are either not aware of the law or they refuse to follow it.

As of a few weeks ago, Article 36-A is no longer a little known law.  New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he has cracked down on 47 Upstate New York contractors for their ethical, legal and business failings:

Article 36-A of the General Business Law requires that every home improvement contractor, before beginning work, provide the consumer with a written contract, signed by both parties, which sets out certain specific information and disclosures. 

“It happens all too often, homeowners hire contractors without having a signed contract stating what work will be done and how long it will take. And many times, they end up with a much larger bill than expected, or with a project that was never started or completed,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

“Homeowners need to know their rights and home improvement contractors need to obey the law. My office will fight to protect consumers’ hard earned dollars and ensure that bad contractors are held accountable.”

The full press release from the AG’s Office is available here.  Article 36-A can be read in its entirety here

It kind of goes without saying, but when I hire a landscaper to trim trees along my driveway, a roofer to replace my roof, or an HVAC specialist to fix my AC unit this summer, I’ll be sure make sure get it in writing!

Business Ethics Scorecard

From Ezra Klein:

A new global survey from Ernst & Young finds that companies are more likely to use cash bribes in hopes of improving their performance than they were two years ago: 15 percent of respondents (who included some firms’ chief financial officers) said they are willing to make cash bribes, compared to 9 percent in E&Y’s 2010 survey.

 

Similarly, 5 percent said they “might misstate financial performance” to make themselves look better, compared to 3 percent in the last survey. Ernst & Young explains that bribery and other corrupt practices are significantly more likely to happen in “rapid-growth markets” in the developing world, pointing out that 39 percent of survey respondents said that bribery and corruption occurs frequently in their countries.

More barriers to entry into the shrinking legal services market

Ben Trachtenberg points out the failings in New York’s new pro bono legal service prerequisite for bar admission in today’s New York Times:

Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman’s plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. As a result, the beneficiaries of Judge Lippman’s largess will be served by people unlicensed to practice law — who by definition have no real practice experience. (Though internships and law school clinics are useful training grounds for future lawyers, they are no substitute for the rigors of licensed practice.)

The Lippman plan hurts these budding lawyers most of all. Recent law school graduates face a growing employment crisis: the Law School Transparency Data Clearinghouse lists 67 schools (out of the 185 that were scored) with full-time legal employment rates below 55 percent. At the same time, law school tuition and student debt have skyrocketed. The average 2011 law graduate from Syracuse owes $132,993, not including any debt incurred for undergraduate education. At Pace, the figure is $139,007; at New York Law School, $146,230.

After commencement, things get worse. Law graduates often borrow more money for bar preparation, to pay for both living expenses and prep courses, which can cost more than $3,000. Even graduates with good jobs lined up face tight summer budgets; many work in retail or food service to make ends meet, as do many law students. The irony is that many recent law graduates may well qualify for the free legal services Judge Lippman will bestow on New York’s poor. It is from these struggling New Yorkers that Judge Lippman demands over a week’s unpaid labor.

In case you have a need for even more sobering news, LegalZoom has filed for an initial public offering.  Richard Granat illuminates the dent in small-firm revenues that LegalZoom may be creating:

LegalZoom’s data in the S-1 filing is now available for everyone to analyze:

  • In 2011, 490,000 orders were placed through their web site;
  • 20% of all limited liability companies in California were done by LegalZoom;
  • During the past ten years, LegalZoom has served over 2,000,000 customers.
  • Revenue in 2011 was $156 million.

These are impressive statistics and provide support for the proposition that consumers and small business prefer a very limited legal solution that is just good enough to get the job done, rather than pay the high legal fees charged by the typical attorney.

Bounded Ethicality

Over the past couple of decades, psychologists have documented many different ways that our minds fail to see what is directly in front of us. They’ve come up with a concept called “bounded ethicality”: That’s the notion that cognitively, our ability to behave ethically is seriously limited, because we don’t always see the ethical big picture.

One small example: the way a decision is framed. “The way that a decision is presented to me,” says Tenbrunsel, “very much changes the way in which I view that decision, and then eventually, the decision it is that I reach.”

Essentially, Tenbrunsel argues, certain cognitive frames make us blind to the fact that we are confronting an ethical problem at all. …

“If you’re thinking about a business decision, you are significantly more likely to lie than if you were thinking from an ethical frame,” Tenbrunsel says.

According to Tenbrunsel, the business frame cognitively activates one set of goals — to be competent, to be successful; the ethics frame triggers other goals. And once you’re in, say, a business frame, you become really focused on meeting those goals, and other goals can completely fade from view.

From NPR.