Court: Clicking 'Like' on Facebook is free speech - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Court: Clicking 'Like' on Facebook is free speech

Posted: Updated:
RICHMOND, Va. -

Clicking "Like" on Facebook is constitutionally protected free speech and can be considered the 21st century-equivalent of a campaign yard sign, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond reversed a lower court ruling that said merely "liking" a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.

Exactly what a "like" means — if anything — played a part in a Virginia case involving six people who say Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts fired them for supporting an opponent in his 2009 re-election bid, which he won. The workers sued, saying their First Amendment rights were violated.

Roberts said some of the workers were let go because he wanted to replace them with sworn deputies while others were fired because of poor performance or his belief that their actions "hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office." One of those workers, Daniel Ray Carter, had "liked" the Facebook page of Roberts' opponent, Jim Adams.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk had ruled in April 2012 that while public employees are allowed to speak as citizens on matters of public concern, clicking the "like" button does not amount to expressive speech. In other words, it's not the same as actually writing out a message and posting it on the site.

Jackson acknowledged that other courts have ruled that Facebook posts are constitutionally protected speech, but he said in those cases there were "actual statements." Simply clicking a button is much different and doesn't warrant First Amendment protection, he wrote. In his ruling, Jackson acknowledged the need to weigh whether the employee's speech was a substantial factor in being fired. But the judge wrote that the point is moot if "liking" something isn't constitutionally protected speech.

The three-judge appeals court panel disagreed, ruling that "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. In this way, it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech." The case was sent back to the lower court.

Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed friend of court briefs in the case, applauded Wednesday's ruling.

"This ruling rightly recognizes that the First Amendment protects free speech regardless of the venue, whether a sentiment is expressed in the physical world or online," Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said in a written statement. "The Constitution doesn't distinguish between 'liking' a candidate on Facebook and supporting him in a town meeting or public rally."

An attorney representing Roberts, the sheriff, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment, nor did an attorney representing the employees.

___

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Business Writer

Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.

  • Viral StoriesMore>>

  • Dutch scramble jets after Russian bombers approach

    Dutch scramble jets after Russian bombers approach

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 12:59 PM EDT2014-04-23 16:59:23 GMT
    AMSTERDAM (AP) -- The Dutch defense department says several NATO member countries scrambled jets Wednesday afternoon after a pair of Russian bomber planes approached their airspace over the North Sea. The Dutch ministry identified the planes as two Russian TU-95 Bears, and said it had launched two F-16s from Volkel air force base to intercept them. The Russian jets were escorted by aircraft from the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark until they departed. Maj. Wilko Ter Horst said "that's why w...
    AMSTERDAM (AP) -- The Dutch defense department says several NATO member countries scrambled jets Wednesday afternoon after a pair of Russian bomber planes approached their airspace over the North Sea. The Dutch ministry identified the planes as two Russian TU-95 Bears, and said it had launched two F-16s from Volkel air force base to intercept them. The Russian jets were escorted by aircraft from the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark until they departed. Maj. Wilko Ter Horst said "that's why w...
  • Study: Naps linked with higher risk of death

    Study: Naps linked with higher risk of death

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 12:50 PM EDT2014-04-23 16:50:30 GMT
    New research shows middle-age and older adults who take naps may be at increased risk of dying. Experts discovered naps were linked with an increased risk of dying from respiratory diseases.
    New research shows middle-age and older adults who take naps may be at increased risk of dying. Experts discovered naps were linked with an increased risk of dying from respiratory diseases.
  • America's middle class falling behind

    America's middle class falling behind

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 12:49 PM EDT2014-04-23 16:49:33 GMT
    America's middle class has always been known as the most affluent in the world. But, that may not be the case anymore. A new study finds that our country's middle class has stalled. According to the New York Times, in 2010, Canada and America were at a dead heat for median income.
    America's middle class has always been known as the most affluent in the world. But, that may not be the case anymore. A new study finds that our country's middle class has stalled. According to the New York Times, in 2010, Canada and America were at a dead heat for median income.
Powered by WorldNow

WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
5151 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
Main Number: (202) 244-5151
Newsroom: (202) 895-3000
fox5tips@wttg.com

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices