Facebook ‘like’ protected under First Amendment

A federal appeals court ruled that the act of clicking “like” on Facebook to indicate a preference for a political candidate was protected under the First Amendment. A sheriff department employee lost his job for showing through a “like” click that he preferred the candidacy of his boss’s opponent in the race for sheriff.  (The Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2013, by Salvador Rodriguez)

The ruling is regarded as ground-breaking in the Internet age as the First Amendment is applied to digital phenomena. The appellate court reversed an earlier decision that free speech only covered “substantive statements.” “The appeals court’s decision reverses that, widening the definition of speech to include, yep, the click of a button. Simple signals of intention and reaction — the most individually uncreative forms of expression imaginable — are now enshrined as constitutionally protected conduits of self-expression,” writes Megan Garber for The Atlantic, September 19, 2013)

The ruling stated that  the “liking” of a campaign page was the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.” (Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2013, by Joe Palazzolo)

Jeff Hermes of the Digital Media Law Project, September 19, 2013, wrote that the ruling was “remarkable” in its “engagement with the actual mechanics of online speech in an effort to reach the right result. Unlike other recent cases that appear to get hung up on the mode of conveying information, the Fourth Circuit’s ruling is an excellent example of substance triumphing over form, and a model for other courts called upon to evaluate freedom of expression online.”

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