ACLU: Facebook ‘like’ is protected free speech
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Virginia filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that when individuals “like” a Facebook page they are engaging in a First Amendment-protected activity.
“People are increasingly using social media to engage in political activities,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “Just because some interactions on social media can be accomplished with a single click does not mean that they don’t express a point of view.”
According to Facebook, the “like” feature is “a way to give positive feedback or to connect with things you care about on Facebook. You can like content that your friends post to give them feedback or like a Page that you want to connect with on Facebook.” When a user “likes” content or a page, Facebook also publicizes that user’s “like” action to that user’s friends, essentially announcing the user’s interest in or appreciation of that content or page.
“When individuals ‘like’ a page or post on Facebook they are conveying an opinion to their friends and possibly to the entire online world,” added Glenberg. “‘Liking’ a politician’s website is no different from wearing a button with the politician’s name – it expresses approval for that politician.”
The question of whether or not a Facebook “like” constitutes free expression arose from a case in which employees of the Sheriff’s Department of Hampton argued that their free speech and association rights were violated when they were fired from their jobs because they supported the Sheriff’s opponent during an election. One of the plaintiffs had “liked” the opponent’s Facebook page.
The federal district court ruled that “liking” a Facebook page is “insufficient speech” to merit constitutional protection.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter amicus brief can be found online at https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/20120807LikeSpeechamicus.pdf.