Facebook Weighs in on Thorny Legal Question over Whether 'Likes' are Protected Free Speech

By Ed Silverstein August 08, 2012

Facebook has weighed in on a challenging new legal question over whether “likes” checked off on Facebook pages can be considered free speech – and are thus protected by the First Amendment.

In response to a recent case, Facebook filed its own legal brief on behalf of Daniel Ray Carter. The Virginia man and five colleagues were fired by a sheriff after they checked the box indicating that they “liked” the Facebook page from another candidate for sheriff.

In May, U.S. Fourth Circuit Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that like boxes on Facebook were not protected speech – in opposition to the fired workers claims. Facebook disagrees with the judge.

"If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, 'I like Jim Adams for Hampton Sheriff,' there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech," Facebook said in its new legal filing, reported by Tecca. "Carter made that very statement; the fact that he did it online, with a click of a computer’s mouse, does not deprive Carter’s speech of constitutional protection."

The American Civil Liberties Union is also supportive of the fired workers free speech rights.

The recent case is not the only one on the subject. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board said fired employees who worked at a not-for-profit, Hispanics United; have to get their jobs back after they were let go when the organization found complaints they posted on Facebook about their workload, Tecca said. On the other hand, a U.S. Marine was discharged recently after posting a Facebook status that was critical of President Barack Obama.

In a related story, a new ruling in Australia may force businesses to vet comments made by members of the public on company Facebook pages. It will start in Australia, where the Advertising Standards Board says user posts by “fans” on Smirnoff’s Facebook page are advertising and they need to adhere to the nation’s advertising laws, according to news reports. But the ruling could lead to similar regulations in other countries, legal experts warn.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

TechZone360 Contributor

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