Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has told a court that a “like” on its social networking website was a user’s expression of free speech that should be covered by the First Amendment. The company filed an amicus brief with a district court in Richmond, Virginia, asserting that “likes” be considered protected speech, and asked the judge to vacate a recent ruling that had ruled otherwise.
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District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson ruled earlier this year that employees of the Hampton Sheriff’s Office, who were allegedly fired because they “liked” the Facebook page of Sheriff B.J. Roberts’ opponent in the 2009 election, did not merit constitutional protection. Judge Jackson said clicking a Facebook button should not qualify as a traditional statement that would be protected by the First Amendment.
“The sheriff’s knowledge of the posts only becomes relevant if the court finds the activity of liking a Facebook page to be constitutionally protected,” Judge Jackson wrote then. “It is the court’s conclusion that merely “liking” a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed in the record.”
However, Facebook said in its filing with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the judge’s ruling “betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of the communication” that was under question. “Liking a Facebook Page (or other website) is core speech,” the company wrote in the filing. “It is a statement that will be viewed by a small group of Facebook Friends or by a vast community of online users.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a friend-of-the-court to support the social network’s stance.
“Facebook should be applauded for filing this brief to support the free speech rights of its users,” the union said in a statement. “Facebook has become a means of communication for tens of millions of Americans, and if basic activity on Facebook such as “liking” were denied First Amendment protection, the free expression of ideas that the First Amendment is meant to safeguard would be severely limited.”
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