Facebook has a First Amendment request for a federal court — make sure “likes” are considered free speech.
The social network made the request in response to a case from Hampton, Virginia where a sheriff fired six people who supported his opponent during a 2009 re-election bid, Forbes reported. One of the workers, Daniel Ray Carter, Jr., claimed that Sheriff B.J. Roberts learned of the support when Carter “liked” the Facebook page of Roberts’ opponent.
The six fired workers sued, saying their Facebook First Amendment rights must be respected, even when it comes to “likes.”
The Judge, Raymond Jackson, didn’t buy the argument. He ruled that clicking the “like” button didn’t amount to free speech in the same way writing a message or creating an actual Facebook post would.
Carter appealed and has the support of legal experts and now even Facebook. First Amendment protection extends to all forms of expression, they claim, and “likes” demand the same kind of constitutional protection as other types of speech.
In an amicus brief for the Facebook First Amendment suit, a lawyer from the social networking giant wrote:
“Facebook, for itself and its Users, has a vital interest in ensuring that speech on Facebook and in other online communities is afforded the same constitutional protection as speech in newspapers, on television, and in the town square…”
“When [Plaintiff Daniel Ray] Carter clicked the Like button on the Facebook Page entitled “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,” the words “Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff” and a photo of Adams appeared on Carter’s Facebook Profile in a list of Pages Carter had Liked – the 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign.”
The lawyers suggested that the judge didn’t understand Facebook’s First Amendment protection, and that “likes” are public statements that show up on news feeds and other places around the site.
ACLU lawyers joined Facebook in the brief, saying in their own amicus brief:
“That conclusion is erroneous. “Liking” something on Facebook expresses a clear message – one recognized by millions of Facebook users and non-Facebook users – and is both pure speech and symbolic expression that warrants constitutional protection. Although it requires only a click of a computer mouse, a Facebook “Like” publishes text that literally states that the user likes something. “Liking” something also distributes the universally understood “thumbs up” symbol. A Facebook “Like” is, thus, a means of expressing support – whether for an individual, an organization, an event, a sports team, a restaurant, or a cause…”
The social media company’s lawyers also say the Facebook First Amendment issue is muddled by the online nature, PCMag.com reported. Had Carter made the same exact statement liking the sheriff’s opponent on a public street corner, there would be no question of whether the statement was considered free speech, lawyers said.
Do you think that Facebook “likes” should be protected by the First Amendment?