Facebook Argues ‘Likes’ Are Protected By The First Amendment

Facebook thinks status updates and photo uploads shouldn’t be the only aspects of social media covered by the First Amendment. According to a new court document, the social networking site argues that “likes” are also an expression of free speech.

According to CNET News, Mark Zuckerberg’s online creation filed a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday after a Virginia judge ruled that Facebook ‘likes’ are not protected speech. In the spring, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson claimed that clicking a button differs from making statements traditionally covered by the First Amendment. He subsequently dismissed a claim by six employees of the Hampton, Va., sheriff’s department who felt they were wrongfully fired for supporting a candidate in opposition of the sheriff in a 2009 election by “liking” the opponent’s Facebook page.

In the ruling, Judge Jackson says, “The sheriff’s knowledge of the posts only becomes relevant if the court finds the activity of liking a Facebook page to be constitutionally protected. It is the court’s conclusion that merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed in the record.”

Facebook stepped in on behalf of its users, saying that “liking a Facebook Page (or other website) is core speech: it is a statement that will be viewed by a small group of Facebook Friends or by a vast community of online users.”

To tailor it to the Virginia case, FB also argues, “If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, “I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,” there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech. Carter made that very statement; the fact that he did it online, with a click of a computer’s mouse, does not deprive Carter’s speech of constitutional protection.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, who also filed a friend brief in appeal of Judge Jackson’s case Wednesday, applauded the social media giant for supporting the free speech of its users. “Facebook has become a means of communication for tens of millions of Americans, and if basic activity on Facebook such as ‘liking’ were denied First Amendment protection, the free expression of ideas that the First Amendment is meant to safeguard would be severely limited.”

Do you think “liking” something on Facebook should be considered protected speech?