Court: You’ve got a right to ‘like’ on Facebook

facebook_logoThe Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that “liking” a Facebook page constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment. The decision reversed the federal district court, which ruled that “liking” a Facebook page is “insufficient speech” to merit constitutional protection.

“We’re pleased that the Court upheld the ‘right to Like’ today. The Court’s ruling affirms what we argued in our friend-of-the-court brief — when individuals ‘Like’ a Facebook page they are protected by the First Amendment,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg.  “We commend the Fourth Circuit for recognizing that interactions in social media deserve the same protection as talking from a soapbox on the street corner.”

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.

In the opinion, the Fourth Circuit held 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.”

“From wearing buttons on their clothing to placing signs in their yards, Americans have a long and constitutionally protected tradition of publicly voicing their political preferences. Today, the Fourth Circuit found that ‘liking’ a politician’s website is no different from wearing a button or placing a sign in your yard with the politician’s name – it is all protected political speech,” said Glenberg.

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.

Read copies of ACLU’s amicus brief and Fourth Circuit opinion.

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