“Liking” as free speech

Well, the consensus as to my query about whether you would like a “like” feature in the comments seemed to be “dislike” and “thumbs down.”  (That’s what we need:  a voting plug-in so we can do polls and surveys!   I am curious about someone’s reference to a larger range of responses that someone has put together.  And maybe something to help people keep track of threads and responses.  We’ll look into some possibilities and maybe try some, letting you voice your opinion after the fact to see if you “like” a feature or not.)

I know for a fact, though, that some of you “dislike” some of the comments, enough to contact me offline about them.  Which means that it is probably time for another of my exhortations:  Don’t hijack topics!  Don’t resort to insults or name-calling!  Don’t be vicious!  And, for heaven’s sake, at some point, just let it rest.  You don’t need to have the last word.  I mean, what more can be said after 200 comments on William Tell, though notice that after 100 or so comments , we typically have drifted far away from the topic of William Tell or whatever it is.

But, in honor of the original topic, I offer this, showing the power and the vast constitutional implications of just hitting a “like” button:

Daniel Ray Carter Jr. logged on to Facebook and did what millions do each day: He “liked” a page by clicking the site’s thumbs up icon. The problem was that the page was for a candidate who was challenging his boss, the sheriff of Hampton, Va.

That simple mouse click, Carter says, caused the sheriff to fire him from his job as a deputy and put him at the center of an emerging First Amendment debate over the ubiquitous digital seal of approval: Is liking something on Facebook protected free speech?

Carter filed a lawsuit claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated, and his case has reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. This week, Facebook and the ACLU filed briefs supporting what they say is Carter’s constitutional right to express his opinion, signaling the case’s potentially precedent-setting nature.

The interest was sparked by a lower court’s ruling that “liking” a page does not warrant protection because it does not involve “actual statements.” If the ruling is upheld, the ACLU and others worry, a host of Web-based, mouse-click actions, such as re-tweeting (hitting a button to post someone else’s tweet on your Twitter account), won’t be protected as free speech.

via A Facebook court battle: Is ‘liking’ something protected free speech? – The Washington Post.

Do you think hitting a “like” button should count as free speech?  And while free speech means that the government must not punish people for expressing what they think, does free speech mean that individual citizens have to tolerate whatever someone says or symbolizes and that their bosses shouldn’t be allowed to fire them for it?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    It would seem to me that hitting a “like” button is the equivalent of saying, “I like or agree with this” and, as such is clearly speech. And, as speech, here in the USA it should be free. And a corollary to this would be that there could very well be consequences to what I’ve said, which (if what I said was stupid or malignant enough) might get me fired.

  • Pete

    It would seem to me that hitting a “like” button is the equivalent of saying, “I like or agree with this” and, as such is clearly speech. And, as speech, here in the USA it should be free. And a corollary to this would be that there could very well be consequences to what I’ve said, which (if what I said was stupid or malignant enough) might get me fired.

  • Michael B.

    It was supposedly said that in Soviet Russia, people had free speech; the question was there freedom after speech.

    Would it be protected speech if he had put “like” for a KKK page? We greatly overestimate in America what were allowed to say and not.

  • Michael B.

    It was supposedly said that in Soviet Russia, people had free speech; the question was there freedom after speech.

    Would it be protected speech if he had put “like” for a KKK page? We greatly overestimate in America what were allowed to say and not.

  • reg

    Speaking as a lawyer, there is no question it is speech.

  • reg

    Speaking as a lawyer, there is no question it is speech.

  • Tom Hering

    It would also be nice if we had a twenty-minute window to edit our posts. Or remove them. (And more lurkers might give commenting a try, knowing “submit” isn’t “commit.”)

  • Tom Hering

    It would also be nice if we had a twenty-minute window to edit our posts. Or remove them. (And more lurkers might give commenting a try, knowing “submit” isn’t “commit.”)

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    With regard to hiring and firing the point isn’t so much free speech because the gov’t isn’t constraining what people can like, rather the government violates the employers’ freedom of association by not allowing him to discriminate against those who like stuff he doesn’t like.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    With regard to hiring and firing the point isn’t so much free speech because the gov’t isn’t constraining what people can like, rather the government violates the employers’ freedom of association by not allowing him to discriminate against those who like stuff he doesn’t like.

  • Pete

    Michael B. @2 said: “Would it be protected speech if he had put “like” for a KKK page? We greatly overestimate in America what were allowed to say and not.”

    Short of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or announcing plans to assassinate a government official, speech here is pretty free. “Liking” a KKK page would likely get you some heightened (not inappropriately) government scrutiny but you’d still be free to say it – even to have a KKK parade.

    You might want to steer clear, though, of expressing anything short of thunderous applause for gay marriage.

  • Pete

    Michael B. @2 said: “Would it be protected speech if he had put “like” for a KKK page? We greatly overestimate in America what were allowed to say and not.”

    Short of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or announcing plans to assassinate a government official, speech here is pretty free. “Liking” a KKK page would likely get you some heightened (not inappropriately) government scrutiny but you’d still be free to say it – even to have a KKK parade.

    You might want to steer clear, though, of expressing anything short of thunderous applause for gay marriage.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    One of things I hate about Facebook is when I hit “Like” on some page, or make a comment in someone else’s post, EVERYONE on my friends list gets notified of the fact (apparently), evidenced by the fact that sometimes they go and ‘Like’ or make their own comments on the same page. That bothers me. If there is a privacy setting somewhere to change that behavior, I can’t find it.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    One of things I hate about Facebook is when I hit “Like” on some page, or make a comment in someone else’s post, EVERYONE on my friends list gets notified of the fact (apparently), evidenced by the fact that sometimes they go and ‘Like’ or make their own comments on the same page. That bothers me. If there is a privacy setting somewhere to change that behavior, I can’t find it.

  • Booklover

    The employee should be free to hit the “like” button, and the employer should be free to fire him.

  • Booklover

    The employee should be free to hit the “like” button, and the employer should be free to fire him.

  • SKPeterson

    Mike – There is a feature that specifies who can see your posts. If you have the “old” version – I’ m not sure about Timeline – you look at the top right of your page and there is a down facing arrow. Select it and you’ ll get a menu for account and privacy settings which you can then adjust.

  • SKPeterson

    Mike – There is a feature that specifies who can see your posts. If you have the “old” version – I’ m not sure about Timeline – you look at the top right of your page and there is a down facing arrow. Select it and you’ ll get a menu for account and privacy settings which you can then adjust.

  • Michael B.

    @Pete

    But liking a KKK page would likely hurt your job prospects. There can be a huge penalty to saying something without the government ever getting involved.

  • Michael B.

    @Pete

    But liking a KKK page would likely hurt your job prospects. There can be a huge penalty to saying something without the government ever getting involved.


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