According to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, if one clicks on the “like” button on a Facebook page or post, it is considered free speech - as reported by a Huffington Post article on Wednesday.
The question came up after six people allege they were fired by Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts for supporting his opponent in Robert’s 2009 re-election effort – an election which he won. The workers sued because they believe their First Amendment rights were violated by having been fired for supporting another candidate.
Even though Roberts said some workers were fired because he wanted them replaced with sworn deputies and others were fired because of their poor job performance, the workers disagreed. Daniel Ray Carter, one of the fired workers clicked “like” on Robert’s opponent’s Facebook page – the Facebook page of opponent Jim Adams.
In April of 2012, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk ruled that clicking “like” on Facebook does not amount to “expressive speech.” Basically, Raymond said that clicking “like” is not equivalent to actually writing out a message and posting in on the social media site.
Jackson also stated that different courts on the subject have said that Facebook posts are expressions that are constitutionally protected, but those incidents involved real statements – not just a click of the “like” button. According to Jackson, simply clicking a button is much different and does not warrant First Amendment protection. In the judge’s decision, he said he had to consider whether Carter’s speech was a substantial factor in his losing his job – but the judge claimed that the point is not important at all since clicking “like” isn’t constitutionally protected.
Carter found that a three-judge appeals court panel totally disagreed with Jackson and his logic – or lack, thereof. The appeals court ruled that a political candidate’s campaign page on Facebook communicates a Facebook user’s approval of a candidate and supports the candidate’s election campaign. To simplify the scenario, the appeals court judges equated the “like” button on Facebook in this case to posting a political sign on one’s property – which the Supreme Court has already acknowledged as substantive and free speech.
Therefore, online speech – even as brief as the click of the “like” button – is protected by the United States’ Constitution’s First Amendment.