August 16, 2012 at 2:01 am #167904
Photo Credit: Stephen Lam/AFP
Is “Liking” a page on Facebook protected free speech?
Apparently NOT, according to at least one Federal District Court Judge in Newport News, Virginia.
Judge Raymond A. Jackson recently dismissed a lawsuit in which, among other things, he ruled that “merely ‘liking’ a page on Facebook is insufficient speech to merit Constitutional protection.”
See global media coverage:
1) Is clicking the “Like” button on Facebook, and/or other similar social media sites, protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
2) If so, why? If not, why not?
August 16, 2012 at 2:14 am #167912
Washington Post editorial:
The Post Editorial Page says:
“To be sure, Facebook and other social media are new technologies, so the relevant legal doctrine is evolving; Judge Jackson, in that sense, wrote on a blank slate…[“Liking”] can express a range of opinion — from idle curiosity to intense support.”
August 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm #167910
The judicial branch, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, has historically provided broad Constitutional protections regarding free speech. Thus, this instance may be the case of one radical and controversial district court judge run amok.
Also, “Liking” the adversary of your employer on Facebook is not a savvy way to enhance one’s employment security or show loyalty to an organization — this is a “no-brainer”!
August 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm #167908
David. Yes. Clicking the “Like” button is protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. When I “Like” something on Facebook, I do it with intention. I like Meet the Press and I like the Rolling Stones. I don’t have to write a dissertation on why I like the Rolling Stones, but those who follow me on Facebook know I do because they see it in my Facebook feed. It tells people about my interests and opionion on certain matters. It is no different than shouting it during a presidential campaign stop (I’m from Iowa, a presidential battleground state), writing a letter to the editor or commenting in spaces like GovLoop.
Although seemingly a benign action, “Liking” on Facebook constitutes an individual’s expression of support for anything from a favorite sports team, organization or coffee bar.
August 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm #167906
Thanks for your astute comments, Deb — I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, not every district court judge may see it that way (see example above). However, I’m confident that U.S. courts of appeals will overturn such rulings restricting free speech online. I likewise think the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down any such rulings that it may choose to hear, assuming an online free speech case makes it that far.
Nevertheless, as legal theory adapts and expands to cover online communications, we must all be vigilant in ensuring our free speech rights are protected. For example, there are cases out there in which employers have fired workers due to postings on social media sites which the employer disapproved of — even though the employee made the post(s) during their personal time outside of work.
Online speech should always be covered by the First Amendment, with rare exceptions. As long as the speech is not personally harmful to others — like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater — Constitutional protections should prevail. I suppose time will tell as this new area of legal theory evolves.
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