When Daniel Ray Carter liked the "Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff" Facebook page in 2009, he probably wasn't thinking it would get him fired. But then his boss, the incumbent running against Adams, won re-election. One of the first actions of his new term was to fire Carter for supporting his rival.
At first, a court ruled that Carter's "like" wasn't substantial enough to warrant the free speech protections guaranteed to all by the First Amendment. Carter is appealing this decision, and Facebook is now filing on his behalf.
The "like" button on Facebook is now so commonplace, so much a part of our vernacular, that it's lost its true meaning.
I believe Facebook's own mechanisms, and the businesses taking advantage of them, are to blame.
Think about it: Clicking the "like" button for an entity on Facebook is what unlocks that entity's news stream to you.
Thus, businesses exercise a somewhat disingenuous, but fair, tactic: Tell someone to "Like" their business page, and then give them something in return: A coupon. A chance to vote on something. A chance to win something. A special offer. It drives people to a page in hopes at least some of them will stick around.
But how authentic is your community at any given point in time when you do this? Why are we throwing pasta at the wall?
Sure, some will stick around, but most probably won't — even if they don't "unlike" your page. That's because most people aren't liking YOU, they're just clicking a "like" button because they like your OFFER.
People who use Facebook as a way to get news are in a similar conundrum. They place less value on the "like" button because they need to click it in order to stay up to date. They must "like" people and organizations they don't really like at all in order to keep tabs on what they're up to.
I manage an organization's social presence. There is one entity that we "follow" on Twitter, but do not "like" on Facebook. Because frankly, we don't like that entity.
A "like" is an endorsement. It is a clear expression. And it should be taken literally. It should also be taken seriously enough to be protected by the First Amendment.
And this, my friends, is why Facebook should have a "follow" button.
As a page administrator myself, being able to differentiate between people who "like" my page and people who "follow" my page would help me make sure I'm giving both of these very different — but very important — audiences what they want, as well as what they deserve. Will some of each audience still be disingenuous? Sure. It's human nature to lie to get what we want.
But at least those who don't want to lie won't have to.