Federal Judge: Facebook 'Like' Button Not Protected by 1st Amendment


As it turns out, "liking" someone or something on Facebook is not protected by the First Amendment. 

Virginia District Court Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that Facebook’s popular "like" button is not a form of constitutionally protected speech after a case in which a local sheriff fired six of his employees for "liking" the Facebook page of one of his political opponents.

The 2009 case, in which Hampton, Va., Sheriff B.J. Roberts fired six of his employees for “hindering the harmony and efficiency of the office” as they were supporting retired chief deputy Jim Adams (his political opponent) by "liking” him on Facebook and attending a barbeque fundraiser on his behalf, made it to federal court as Bobby Bland, Daniel Carter, David Dixon, Robert McCoy, John Sandhofer and Debra Woodward sued Sheriff Roberts for allegedly violating their First Amendment rights.

But Judge Jackson disagreed with them, opining that “liking" a Facebook page does not qualify as protected speech since the popular blue button is an "insufficient" form of expression that doesn't merit constitutional protection (unlike Facebook posts which are actual statements that exist "in the record"). 

However, not everybody agrees with the controversial decision which could soon be appealed potentially reaching the heights of the United States Supreme Court. 

"A communicative act is a form of free speech and while clicking "like" on Facebook is a minimal act, it is a form of communication thus protected under the First Amendment," said constitutional attorney and law professor Bruce Rogow who believes that even "a simple mouse click" (or smartphone 'tap') is a legitimate way of conveying a message to others.

The incident raises a host of new legal issues in the still young but increasingly popular world of social media, where most users feel that "liking" something on Facebook or retweeting someone on Twitter equates to an endorsement. That's why more and more Twitter users warn in their bios that "tweets are not endorsements." 

But the dynamics of Facebook are different, and liking someone on the wildly popular social network could be interpreted as being a die-hard fan of a particular brand, celebrity or politician; and though Mark Zuckerberg's company considered at some point introducing variables such as this user "watched this video" or that user "listened to that song" the marketing potential of the now controversial "like" blue button is too tempting to change it at this point (especially when the company readies for a $100 billion IPO which could make Zuckerberg the world's richest millenial). 

Weight in: Should Facebook's "like" button be a form of protected speech?