Court: Hitting "Like" on Facebook Protected by First Amendment

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 19 2013 6:56 PM

Court: Hitting "Like" on Facebook Protected by First Amendment

144741523
A television crew prepares for a broadcast in front of a 'like' sign outside Facebook headquarters May 18, 2012 in Menlo Park, California.

Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

A federal appeals court overturned a lower court decision on Wednesday, ruling that clicking the “Like” button on Facebook in support of a political candidate amounts to constitutionally protected speech.

The case was brought by former employees at a Virginia sheriff's office who said they lost their jobs because they supported their boss’ opponent in the local election and had the cheek to "Like" his campaign page on Facebook.

Advertisement

Here’s a bit more of the back story from the Atlantic:

In November of 2009, B.J. Roberts, the sheriff of Hampton, Virginia, ran for re-election. A group of workers in Roberts' office, however, among them one Bobby Bland, weren't enthused about the prospects of their boss's continuation in his role. So they took to their Facebook accounts to protest the run: They Liked the campaign of Roberts's opponent, Jim Adams. Despite the minuscule mutiny, however, Roberts won the election. He then chose not to retain Bland and the others as his employees. The dismissals, Roberts said at the time, were the result not only of  budgeting concerns, but also of the workers' hindrance of "the harmony and efficiency of the office." The sheriff had not liked his workers' Likes. 

The employees filed suit, but a lower court dismissed the claim in 2012, saying that hitting “Like” on Facebook was not substantive enough to warrant constitutional protection. In overturning the ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler wrote: “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” and “it is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”  

In arguments before the appeals panel in May, Facebook argued that the “Like” feature is vital form of expression on the social network and must have free-speech protection, Bloomberg reports. “We are pleased the court recognized that a Facebook ‘Like’ is protected by the First Amendment,” Facebook associate general counsel, Pankaj Venugopal, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in The New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.