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.

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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!

The Facebook Password Ethical Dilemma Hits Albany

To follow up yet again on the Facebook password issue (see posts from April 11th and March 24th),

If Albany County Legislature Chairman Shawn Morse has his way, employers won’t be able to look at things potential employees post on Facebook. Unless, it’s done publicly.

Morse says he plans to introduce legislation that would ban county employers from asking for prospective employees’ social media account passwords.

The full story from the Times Union can be found here.

Lawmakers Heed Facebook’s Ethical Advice

Following up on a prior post (March 24th), Maryland has quickly enacted legislation prohibiting employers from asking for social media passwords, and it looks like Congress may be stirring on this issue, too: 

If you’re worried about an employer or potential employer asking for your Facebook or Twitter password, you might just want to move to Maryland. The state’s General Assembly has become the first to pass a bill to keep social media passwords safe from employers.

Just a few weeks ago national attention was put on the issue of job applicants and employees being asked for their Facebook passwords so that companies could ensure the individuals had appropriate social media identities.

In response, New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate if the practice violates federal laws.

The full ABC News story can be found here.  Maybe the fired elementary school teacher’s aide should move to Maryland.

Nike Obtains Injunction Against Reebok For Unethical Tebowing

Check out this story about a massive feud brewing between Nike and Reebok.  

Nike, which takes over as the official NFL merchandise manufacturer on April 1st after Reebok held that distinction for the past 10 years, is not too pleased that Reebok took advantage of Tebow-mania hitting Broadway (the Denver Broncos traded Tim Tebow to the New York Jets on March 21st) by rushing a bunch of Jets jerseys with Tebow’s name and number to market before Reebok’s deal with the NFL expires on March 31st.

An injunction was issued yesterday prohibiting Reebok from selling any more Tebow/Jets merchandise and requiring Reebok to recall the offending Tebow merchandise.  (Nike Inc. v. Reebok International Ltd., 12- cv-2275, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York).

I can see the ethics of both sides here.  Nike thinks Reebok unfairly flooded the market with Tebow merchandise near the end of Reebok’s deal with the NFL in order to ensure that Reebok continues selling jerseys well after its contract expires.  On the other hand, Reebok thinks that it was right and justified in producing Tebow merchandise to meet the instant demand created by the Tebow trade, since it was and continues to be (at least for a few more days) the official NFL merchandiser.

Who’s right?  At least for now, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel says it’s Nike.  Should be a fun case to watch.

Prospective Employers Want What? …No Thanks!

According to recent news reports, some employers are now demanding Facebook passwords for background check purposes.  Are you kidding me?!?!  Facebook responded yesterday in this story by the Associated Press, cautioning about the ethical and legal ramifications of this practice:

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it’s an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities.

The social networking company is also threatening legal action against those who violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords.

An Associated Press story this week documented cases of job applicants who are being asked, at the interview table, to reveal their Facebook passwords so their prospective employers can check their backgrounds.

In a post on Friday, Facebook’s chief privacy of policy officer cautioned that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn’t hire that person.

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” wrote Erin Egan. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.”

Not sharing passwords is a basic tenet of online conduct. Aside from the privacy concerns, Facebook considers the practice a security risk.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said that the company doesn’t think employers should be asking applicants for their passwords because “we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

“While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policymakers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users,” he said.

Wow…

I’m not a chronic Facebook user by any means (I’m lucky if I log on once a month), but if an employer asked me for my password, I’d have serious reservations about working there.  Not that I have anything to hide (pictures of my daughters and the fact that I “like” the Denver Broncos aren’t likely to end up in my employment file…unless the boss is a Raiders fan).

But what about my friends?  Don’t I have an ethical obligation to protect their privacy?  It’s bad enough that Facebook seems to change its privacy policy every few weeks, requiring users to log on and make sure their privacy settings are up to snuff.  Now people after worry about their friends’ employers scoping out their Facebook pages?

Maybe my anti-Facebook friends aren’t so crazy to shun social media after all…

Dollar and a Dream…But Then What?

Tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot is $241 million.  So naturally, I couldn’t resist buying into the office pool with my colleagues.  To be honest, I don’t play the lotto much, but I always buy into the office pools out of fear that the group will win without me (kind of like this poor fellow from Albany).

So I’ve been thinking — what happens when a large group of colleagues wins the lottery?  Is there a mass exodus of people quitting their jobs?  If so, what happens to the employer?  (Check out this entry on The Business Ethics Blog by Chris MacDonald, Ph.D, which raises several interesting ethical questions surrounding the ramifications of workplace lottery pools ).

More interestingly, what happens when the employer is a group of professionals?  I’m sure people don’t want or expect their doctors and lawyers to quit suddenly and leaving them high and dry.  Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the local hospital’s ER staff won the lotto and quit their jobs en masse.  For attorneys, that’s where Rule 1.3(b) of New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct comes into play — attorneys simply cannot neglect matters entrusted to them.

Thus, rest assured, that my colleagues and I will be at work bright and early tomorrow morning, even if…I mean when…we win tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot!

(P.S.  I’m Jake Lamme.  I’ll post a bio soon so that you can get to know me a bit.  Thanks to Tom for inviting me to think ethically on Think Ethically!)