One of the challenges of constitutional law is to apply broad principles like free speech in a constantly evolving technological reality. A federal appeals court has now ruled that clicking the “like” button on Facebook is a protected form of (in this case) political speech:
“Liking” something on Facebook is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, reviving a closely watched case over the extent to which the Constitution shields what we do online.
In doing so, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a former deputy sheriff in Hampton, Va., who said he was sacked for “liking” the Facebook page of a man running against his boss for city sheriff.
“Liking” the campaign page, the court said, was the “Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”The Richmond-based appeals court reversed a ruling by a federal district judge, Raymond A. Jackson, who threw out the lawsuit last year on the grounds that a Facebook “like” was “insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.”…
Chief Judge William B. Traxler Jr., writing for a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit, said no such distinction exists.
“On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement,” wrote Judge Traxler for the court, which ruled unanimously on the Facebook issue.
This is exactly the correct ruling. It is the expression of an opinion that is protected, not the mode by which one expresses it.