Facebook Likes Considered Free Speech
It’s not something that you would think of as a hot button human rights issue but a US court has ruled that using the Like button on Facebook constitutes exercising the right to free speech and is deserving of the same protections as afforded other substantive speech.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of a sheriff’s deputy who claimed that he was fired for liking the Facebook page of a candidate for city sheriff who was running in opposition to his then boss.
In his ruling, Chief Judge William Traxler wrote, “Liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
In April 2012, a U.S. District Judge ruled that liking a Facebook page was “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.”
Judge Traxler disagreed with that sentiment. In his ruling, he also stated, “On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement.”
That statement by Judge Traxler should set a precedent going forward that likes on Facebook represent a substantive enough statement that they are protected by the freedom of speech provision of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
I’ll admit that I never thought that I’d see the day where a Facebook like is a key part of a legal proceeding but I guess it’s a natural part of people becoming more active on social networks. I’d hate to see what happens when we have a case about a retweet when someone’s bio says that a retweet doesn’t equal an endorsement.