If a Facebook Like is an expression of free speech – what are we actually saying?
A story broke this week about a US court case in Virginia where a sheriff’s deputy ‘liked’ his boss’ political opponent’s page. His boss fired him.
The deputy, Daniel Ray Carter, sued, saying his ‘Like’ was protected by the First Amendment. The judge didn’t agree and stated, “merely liking a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.”
Facebook weighed in on the debate saying:
Contrary to the district court’s understanding, liking a Facebook page (or a non-Facebook website) is speech: It generates verbal statements and communicative imagery on the user’s profile … as well as similar statements and imagery in the news feeds of the user’s friends. In this case, by liking the Adams campaign’s page, Carter ensured that the slogan, “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,” would appear alongside Adams’ photo on Carter’s Facebook profile … Carter also triggered an announcement on his friends’ news feeds and on the campaign’s page itself that he liked the campaign’s page. Carter’s use of Facebook to “convey his message” was “speech” within the meaning of the First Amendment.
But given the news last week that 10% of Facebook accounts are fake, that a journalist managed to get 3000 Likes in a day for a non-existent ‘virtual bagels‘ business, and that a California start-up discovered 80% of its Facebook ads were actually clicked by bots, what is a Like actually saying?
Not very much given the recent research we carried out into the simple way to remember and share recommendations. It analysed the Facebook Likes of its customers to see whether people would actually recommend things they’ve ‘liked’ to their friends.
Results showed that Facebook users recommend only 13% of their Likes – that’s 87% of Likes that people wouldn’t actually put their name behind. It’s also notable to add that the majority of those Likes are for relatively low value categories like music, celebrities and films, rather than products, hotels, restaurants and activities.
It appears that for most products and services a Like ranges in meaning from absolutely nothing (in the case of a bot generated Like) to, at best, “I’m willing to sign up to this mailing list”.
Facebook is simply using Likes to improve its targeting of advertising, so wants as many as possible. But like most things, the more pervasive they become, the less they are worth. If marketers lose faith in Facebook’s targeted advertising then a key part of its business model is at risk.
Alexis Dormandy, founder and CEO at LoveThis.