Facebook’s ‘Like’ Is Now Protected by the Constitution

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Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) “Like” function won a major victory Wednesday, when a U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that using the “Like” button on the social networking site is an example of free speech protected under the Constitution, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The suit was brought by former employees of a Virginia sheriff’s office who were fired for “Liking” the sheriff’s opponent’s Facebook page. The ruling overturns a previous decision by a lower court that said the “Like” function doesn’t deserve Constitutional protection because doing so only involves one click and therefore doesn’t count as “a substantive statement.” That ruling was widely criticized, Bloomberg pointed out, because other online activities such as donating money to a campaign are also done with just one click.

“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,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler wrote. “It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”

The judge added: “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.”

Facebook has argued that such protection of the “Like” function is important for its business and any of the 500 million Americans who use the site. The ruling determined that pressing the “Like” button is both symbolic expression and “pure speech,” Bloomberg reports.

While the ruling is a win in protecting the rights of Facebook users, those same users may be having their privacy rights violated by the social network itself. The Federal Trade Commission has launched a probe into recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policy after receiving complaints from several consumer protection watchdog groups.

At the end of August, the site changed some language in its privacy policy to make it more clear that it has the right to use users’ names, profile pictures, and other profile content for advertising purposes.

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Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS