Clicking the “like” button on Facebook is tantamount to other forms of protected speech, a federal court decided on Wednesday. That is clicking the “like” button is protected by the First Amendment as a form of assembly or association.
“The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, issued its ruling today in a lawsuit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who said they lost their jobs because they supported their boss’s opponent, partly by endorsing a campaign page on Facebook.
“The appeals court reversed a lower-court judge who said that simply clicking the ‘Like’ button on a Facebook page didn’t amount to “a substantive statement” that warrants constitutional protection.”
“The question Bland v. Roberts really explores is the extent to which digitally mediated expressions are, indeed, expressions in the same way that petitioning and pamphleteering and, yes, speech-making are. In the case of the Like button, does a form of expression so devoid of creativity on the part of the expresser — to click or not to click — deserve protection?
“Judge Jackson’s answer was no. When he dismissed the suit last year, he did so under the logic that First Amendment freedoms may be extended only to “substantive statements” — to digital speech in the strictest sense of the term.
“The appeals court’s decision reverses that, widening the definition of speech to include, yep, the click of a button. Simple signals of intention and reaction — the most individually uncreative forms of expression imaginable — are now enshrined as constitutionally protected conduits of self-expression.”
U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler compared liking something on Facebook to displaying a political sign on your front yard, which the Supreme Court has found to be “substantive speech.”