Go ahead and click “like” on whatsoever you please on Facebook, but if you get into hot water because of it, don’t expect a judge to let you hide behind the First Amendment and the right to free speech. A federal judge ruled recently that liking something on the social network isn’t constitutionally protected speech.
The ruling came about because of a situation in Virginia, where six people say a sheriff fired them for supporting an opponent in 2009 during his re-election bid. He ended up winning, and the workers sued, saying they’d had their First Amendment rights violated, says the Associated Press (via the Chicago Tribune).
The sheriff claimed the workers were let go because he wanted to replace them with sworn deputies, or that some had poor performance or he thought their actions “hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office.”
One worker had “liked” the Facebook page of the sheriff’s opponent. But while public employees are allowed to express themselves as citizens when it comes to matters of public concern, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that clicking the “like” button does not amount to expressive speech.
If the worker had written out a message and posted it on the site, that would’ve been protected by the constitution. It all gets a little weird, because some see “liking” something on Facebook as making a statement, even if it’s not written.
In the case of liking a political opponent’s page, is that more of a statement than liking your friend’s post that she’s going to the gym, then the store and maybe to that wine bar she likes later? It gets confusing.
Court: No 1st Amendment protection for Facebook ‘like’ [Associated Press/Chicago Tribune]