Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Anderson guest touches on public photos of people; are Facebook "Likes" really a form of "speech"?

Tuesday, Aug. 7, there were a couple of incidental points about Internet web effectiveness made on Anderson Cooper’s daytime show, although not as magnified as in an earlier episode in March regarding online reputation extortion” (Marc 12).

The little couple “Jennifer and Bill” made a point about photography of people drinking in bars.  Yes, when the pictures wind up online, it could cause some people to lose or not to get jobs, Jennifer said.  It needs to stop.   Indeed, there were cases a few years ago where people were excluded or teachers fired when pictures of drinking showed up on Facebook, sometimes taken by others. Sometimes the focus was specifically on underage drinking.  (That issue caused National’s teenage outfielder Bryce Harper to chide a reporter for asking a “clown question” in Toronto.) 

On the other hand, people have been taking photos at discos for years, particularly since cameras became standard features of cell and smart phones.  But the issue has become more sensitive in the last eighteen months or so with the attention the media has placed on Facebook tagging and possibly on facial recognition software.  In New York City, in March, the “Black Party” required customers to check in cell phones before entering the space.

Things have come a long way since it was a big deal for people to walk in front of TV cameras at gay pride events (a contractor co-worker in Dallas was freaked out when I did so in 1980), or when Metropolitan Community Church would set up no-TV areas for congregations, particularly for AIDS information forums.  People who work for so-called “Christian” employers (much worse than Chick-Fil-A – say, Cracker Barrel restaurants back in the early 1990s) have been fired for accidental media appearances at gay spots.  That doesn’t seem to happen much any more.

Anderson also covered the idea of an Internet blog going viral – the restaurant reviews by 85-year-old Marilyn from Grand Forks, ND.  And yes, she understands “Google hacking”.

There’s another issue brewing, which I covered on my “IT jobs blog” yesterday in an employment case, whether “Likes” on Facebook or YouTube constitute protected speech. “Likes” may have commercial value (almost as a kind of bit coin or currency), but one can make the case that “Likes” are more like social chatter than real “content”.  But they do bear on reputation and popularity, and can be relevant in politically sensitive employment situations.

Update: Aug. 11

The matter is now before the Fourth Circuit in Richmond (it has a reputation as a conservative circuit).  On CNN on Saturday, Richard Herman noted that a simple "like" (or dislike) doesn't make a substantive statement of public concern, often the standard applied in free speech cases. 

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